By Darija Barsukova ’20 (Riga, Latvia, placed by PAX in Oshkosh, WI)
Maintaining contact with a host family after completing your exchange year can be a wonderful way to keep the memories alive and continue learning about a different culture. Alumni from Latvia often share that the connection with their friends and families from the United States is one of the best things they have gained from the FLEX program. Some even have had a chance to meet with their families after completing the program and catch up after years of only seeing each other through video calls and pictures.
Anna Paula Spriedeja ’18, for example, visited her host family in the summer of 2022 in her host state, Michigan, where she spent a month with her host family and even attended a family reunion. Another alumna, Nikolina Lote Rutenberga ’19, visited her host family in Minnesota around Christmas in 2022. She surprised her host siblings and grandparents, who were overjoyed to see her three years after her exchange year ended. They spent time baking, visiting relatives, and traveling.
Indeed, social media and messaging apps have made it easier than ever to stay in touch with loved ones across the globe. While it takes effort to keep the connection strong, the benefits are often worth it. Both alumnae agree that maintaining contact with their host families has positively impacted their lives.
For example, Paula’s host family serves as an example of how to build relationships with others, be patient, and be loving in communication. She views their family dynamics as a positive example of how to raise her kids and a reminder that there are always people who will support you no matter what. Nikolina also has received tremendous support and encouragement from her host family in her academic and professional pursuits. Her host grandfather, Jerry, expressed his desire for her to become his doctor when she graduates from medical school!
Of course, keeping in touch while being thousands of miles apart can be difficult at times. Paula has faced challenges in staying connected with her host family as time has passed and their lives have changed, but she still tries to communicate often, send greetings, and update them about her life. Nikolina finds it challenging to maintain a close relationship with her host family due to time zone differences and busy schedules, but they remind each other of their importance and take time to send messages and packages to show their appreciation for each other.
For FLEX alumni who want to stay connected with their host families but are not sure how to start, Paula suggests reflecting on their exchange experience and sharing pictures or memories. “A good idea,” says Paula, “is to ask for your favorite recipes from the U.S. and share how the attempts to make them at home have ended up. No worries if the taste is not the same – that would be a good opportunity to say how much you miss your host family’s cooking!”
Nikolina emphasizes that the strength of the relationship with the host family during the exchange year will determine the level of communication, but even small gestures like sending a birthday card or message can make a significant difference. “After all, these families have opened their hearts and homes to welcome a stranger into their lives – they would likely love a picture or a short life update from you. It is always worth a try,” she says.
Many alumni will agree that the lasting ties with their American communities are the best parts of being a FLEX alum. With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to stay in touch and show gratitude for the impact that these relationships have had on our lives.
Anna Paula Spriedeja ’18 (Riga, Latvia, placed by ASSE in Grand Haven, MI)
Nikolina Lote Rutenberga ’19 (Sunisi, Latvia, placed by ASSE in Edgerton, MN)