Written for The Light by John Hansen
It’s been 55 years this summer since no less than Dr. Rachel Andresen herself came to my high school and announced my selection for the summer exchange to Berlin. I certainly had no idea I would be on my way back 55 years later, but here I stand, ticket in hand, for yet another visit. I will again be sleeping in the very same bedroom I used in 1960.
My host brother Dirk and I have stayed close through all these years, helped considerably by his job as a pilot for Lufthansa. We have daughters the same age and they carried on the tradition when Sonja spent her senior year with us. Our girls attended each others’ weddings and now each have sons that are 5-years-old. It looks like their exchange year will be about 2027 and I hope YFU will be there to help make it happen in whatever manner exchanges occur then.
It has been 40 years since my family hosted our first exchange student, Lena from Sweden. Over time, we have had many visits with her and her family. We don’t host any more, but we do serve as a ‘port-in-the-storm’ for assorted exchange students who need a place to stay for a few days while their host family attends a funeral or has business in another city. We also send our modest check to the YFU Annual Fund every year in remembrance of the fact that my trip would not have been possible without some ‘extra’ help.
My Mom sent a boy to Germany, but the person who returned to her was a young man. A young man who was no longer consigned to the waiting factory job in my industrial city, but focused on being the first in the family to attend college. Exchanges can be truly transformational experiences. They may not all endure as long as mine, but this one is still paying dividends today.