In the second part of our hosting series, IRIS highlights Alexis Vosburg and her family’s experience with hosting.
Alexis Vosburg is a busy woman. She’s a full-time teacher, an IRIS local coordinator, a mother, a Sunday School leader and more. However, having such a busy schedule didn’t stop Alexis from getting involved with hosting her first IRIS exchange student back in 2012.
“We thought about hosting because of my husband’s international experiences but always thought our kids were too young, until we finally took the leap!” Alexis said.
It was a leap for sure. With two sons under the age of 6 and, as Alexis put it, “lots of animals,” the Vosburgs opened their home in the country to their first IRIS student, Nasra from Tanzania, in August of 2012. Alexis recalls being nervous about hosting a student that came from a big city because they lived out of town.
“We thought they may not like it here,” Alexis said. “I was worried about getting them to all the activities they wanted to be at.”
“My relationship with Nasra grew over time into a friendship,” Alexis said. “She helped me to feel not as busy with my kids and was a huge help around the house.”
Despite her worries, Nasra’s experience as the Vosburgs’ exchange student was far from unlikeable. Both she and another exchange student the Vosburgs hosted, Bora from Turkey, got to experience riding a horse for the first time. They also helped with farm chores, and learned more about family togetherness.
“All of our students have enjoyed and eventually miss the “cornfields of loneliness” when they return to their home countries,” Alexis said. “They learn how we help one another on the farm.”
Another struggle Alexis said she was worried about was how it would be hosting a Muslim student. She was concerned about meeting the students’ needs of halal only meats and no pork. However, Alexis has now hosted three Muslim students, and says her worries about what to make for dinner are a thing of the past.
“All our students were very good about helping in the kitchen and being open to vegetarian or chicken options,” Alexis said.
Having these worries are normal for host families prior to students arriving, especially when hosting a student from a different religion or culture. It shows the host family’s dedication to making sure their student’s needs are being met. Opening your home is the easy part, but Alexis says it was the idea of opening her mind and her heart to these students’ lives that made hosting worth it for her.
“Just the idea of learning so much about another place and person is what we looked forward to most before each of our students arrived,” Alexis said. “The more we hosted, the more our family grew and the smaller our world became!”
Students hosted through the Youth Exchange and Study program are all able to do so through scholarships. To Alexis, this was a huge factor in her decision to host a YES student through IRIS. Alexis says the YES program allowed students the chance to come here who might not have had the opportunity otherwise. It wasn’t about which students were able to come financially, but rather about who they were as people.
Alexis also says her family wasn’t complete until Bora, Nasra, and Shahmir – Alexis’ current student from Pakistan, came along and joined the Vosburgs. She agrees her experience as a host family helped her understand other cultures and religions so much more.
“World news has a new meaning for us when Tanzania, Turkey or Pakistan are mentioned,” Alexis said. “They are real places, with real people and people we love.”
Students in the YES program experience a number of ‘firsts’ during their exchange year. Shahmir, the Vosburgs current YES student from Pakistan, went with his family to find a Christmas tree this past winter.
The Vosburgs remain in touch with their global family. Bora, who was in the YES program from 2015-2016, even came back to the United States in 2017 to finish his senior year of high school with the Vosburgs, and now studies at Wartburg College in Waverly, IA. Alexis says his family back home in Turkey loves to connect with the Vosburgs too.
“Bora’s grandmother has knit several items and sent them to us that we cherish,” Alexis said.
While hosting isn’t always easy, it’s definitely an unforgettable experience. It’s going to be hard living with any teenager. It’s an evolving, ever-changing, awesome dynamic of family life. Alexis agrees the “roller coaster of emotions” are worth it to be a part of hosting an IRIS student.
The Vosburgs celebrating Bora as he graduated high school. Bora came back in 2017 to finish his schooling, and is now in college studying engineering science.
“I love getting to know these young people and being a part of their lives forever,” Alexis said. “They are future leaders and I am so proud of them.”
In two words, Alexis says hosting an IRIS student is truly, “life changing.”
If you are interested in learning more about hosting an exchange student or know someone who might be, feel free to contact IRIS at 515-292-7103, or email our Youth Program Manager, Alesia Hassan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.