December 8, 2019

Local family hosting ninth foreign exchange student

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STANDISH — Kristen and Gary Sullivan have been involved with the Council for Educational Travel student exchange organization since 2011 and are currently hosting their ninth foreign exchange student, Emma Rasmussen of Copenhagen, Denmark, who is currently a sophomore at Standish-Sterling Central High School.

Rasmussen said that she has always been inclined toward travel, so the decision to study abroad was an easy one.

“I have always traveled a lot,” Rasmussen said. “In fact, I lived in China for 3 years, and then in France for 2 years, and I have also traveled on vacation in many different countries. Different culture and traveling has always been a big part of my life. When I found out that it was possible to live in another country for about a year, I knew that it was something I wanted to do.

Likewise, Kristen Sullivan said the family has always been interested in learning about other cultures and countries. She said they had considered participating in the foreign exchange program for a long time until finally getting involved in 2011.

“We have always felt this was a great program but thought we didn’t have enough room in our home until our oldest moved out,” Sullivan said. “It was just perfect timing when we saw a CETUSA representative back in 2011. We soon learned we had more than enough room and when we saw our first student’s letter, we knew we were making the right choice to open our home to an exchange student.”

The foreign exchange program requires a great deal of dedication on behalf of both the host family and the student.

“I worked very hard, as do all exchange students, to become involved in the program,” Rasmussen said. “In addition to being accepted into the program — not only does it cost a lot of money — my program also expects its students to be mature and have good grades. All this work to join the program was ... to increase my cultural experience and get a deeper understanding of why people live differently.”

Sullivan said that the family is happy to have continued their involvement in the program.

“We had such a wonderful time after the first year that we decided to continue and make another student’s dream come true,” Sullivan said. “We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the joy on their faces as we introduced them to new things. Nothing compares to seeing a couple of them experience snow for the first time, but there are many other firsts. There is the change of seasons, the Great Lakes, a bonfire, football game, Taco Bell, Walmart, ranch dressing, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Mountain Dew — these are the big ones.”

In addition to Rasmussen, the Sullivans have hosted students from Germany, Norway, Thailand, Finland, Ecuador, China and Sweden. Sullivan said they have also become involved in the program beyond hosting students.

“In addition to hosting students in our home, I took it a step further and became a local coordinator for CETUSA,” Sullivan said. “In this position, I am vetting host families, placing students in host families and providing ongoing support to the students, host families, and schools during the program. I wanted others to have this great opportunity. These are all great kids and just knowing that you made a kid’s dream come true is rewarding.”

Rasmussen said that, while she’s only been here for around a month and a half, the experience has been a positive one.

“So far it has been very good,” Rasmussen said. “People are very friendly and good at making you feel welcome. Of course there is a lot of differences to adapt to, but it is all something I feel makes me grow as a person.”

Sullivan said their involvement in the program has forever changed their family for the better.

“Each of our students have left little bits of their cultures, personalities, and interests that have forever changed our lives,” Sullivan said. “We are different people today than we would have been if we had never hosted.”

Rasmussen said that she has three years of school to complete when she returns to Denmark, and that while this year does not count as an academic year for her, she is glad she participated and is thankful to her fellow students for making her feel comfortable here.

“I would like to say thank you for making me feel welcome from the moment I stepped in the doors,” Rasmussen said. “It has been a great time so far, and I know that we will make lifelong-lasting memories.”

Sullivan said that she believes involvement in the CETUSA program is a rewarding choice for many families and encourages anyone who may be interested to look into participating. Likewise, Rasmussen said that her decision to live abroad has helped her grow personally, and she recommends that everyone who can should give it a try.

Personally, I think everyone should take a year abroad if possible to understand different cultures,” Rasmussen said. “Differences does not always have to be a bad thing, because that difference makes you learn.”

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