When Michelle Dischleit saw she was selected to spend her year abroad in the United States in "Mexico MO" instead, she cried. Now, after discovering where the town is located and seven months here with the McCubbins family, she says she has had a marvelous time.
So good, in fact, that the Berlin, Germany native nominated Lisa and Jeff McCubbins and their daughters Jessika, age 20, and Kelsie, age 16, as "Host Family of the Month" in a national contest held by the Ayusa program.
"When I first saw the word 'Mexico,' I cried," Michelle said. "I couldn't understand why I didn't get the United States. Then I looked up where the town and school was, and I was happy."
Michelle is in the U.S. as part of the Ayusa program, a non-profit organization founded in 1981 to promote global learning and leadership through a foreign exchange experience for high school students.
She nominated the McCubbins for Ayusa's monthly award, and they were selected for February. The Ayusa exchange students in all 50 states were eligible to nominate their host families.
"I don't think I have the best host family … I know it!" Michelle said in her nomination. "I have done so many things with my host family. My year is going great. I tried so many new things and have had so many new experiences. I can't be grateful enough the McCubbins' took me for this year. They are a part of my life now, and I will never let them go. These four will always be a part of my heart."
Michelle is the fifth exchange student the McCubbins have hosted. Previously, they hosted two other students from Germany, one from France and one from Croatia. They highly recommend the program to other families.
"Adding a foreign exchange student to our family has been a good experience for us," Lisa said. "The experience has given us a look into other cultures as we learn about their holidays, food and traditions."
She also says the cost shouldn't deter for prospective families. "The students come prepared to pay their own expenses such as clothing and school needs," she said. "We provide for them as we do our own girls for vacations, food, transportation and family events."
Lisa does recommend that families host their first exchange student while their own teens are at home.
"When we hosted our first exchange student from Croatia, our girls were in elementary and middle school at the time," she said. "We discovered that it's tougher for the exchange students to make friends and find their own way through the school without a teenage host," she said. "It's easier for them to interact in the community when the teen host and exchange student have more in common.
Page 2 of 3 - Each family has a local community representative who supports the family and the student as needed and is helpful in arranging students' arrival to the United States. The community representative coordinates trips and special events for the students and their host families throughout the year, which allows the families to interact with other exchange students in the program.
Lisa is eager to get the word out about the program and is willing to visit with any family interested in hosting an exchange student. "It's good for Mexico High School to have foreign exchange students," she said. "They are not a burden to the family or the school, and American students are anxious to discover what life is like in another country. It's good for the family, and all you have to do is treat the student like one of your own children."
Kelsie says she and Michelle have become good friends. "I don't mind sharing a room," she said. "We have so much fun because we like a lot of the same things. She is outgoing, and we are both up for nearly anything."
The McCubbins stay in touch with most of their former exchange students, and are expecting a return visit from one in September. Michelle, however, has been a near fit for the family. "Michelle is special," Lisa said. "She is the same age as Kelsie, and they have a lot in common. They both love to dance, play board games, compete in volleyball, and each has a great sense of humor."
Michelle also recommends the Ayusa program to others. "I think the program is great for getting experience with other cultures," she said. "The program has lots of other things you can do while in America. I am taking a trip to Hawaii next week, for example."
While Michelle has had the usual cultural differences to adjust to, coming to America has worked out well for one of her favorite hobbies. "I love shopping here," she said. "All my favorite stores, such as Hollister, American Eagle and Victoria's Secret, have much cheaper prices than in Germany. I packed lighter when I came here because I knew I would be buying lots of jeans to take back home with me."
When she returns to Berlin, Michelle will have to repeat a year of school, then plans to go to college to major in event planning/public relations. She leaves June 9.
And, as that date nears, the McCubbins are looking ahead to their next exchange student. "We have gone online to Ayusa, and looked at applications for next year," Lisa said. "We can see their first name, country of origin, number of siblings, language ability and see what they might have in common with our girls.
"We are also able to read a letter from the student to his/her potential host family. If you are tossed between several students, their letter can be a determining factor as it gives you an inside look at the student's family, likes or dislikes, current school activities and much more. It is always wise to choose several students that you are interested in because just like deciding on your seats for a concert, they can be taken away from you in a split second and then you have to start the selection process all over again."
Page 3 of 3 - The next visitor to the McCubbins family will be from Norway. Lisa and the girls look forward to Skyping with her before her arrival in August.
The days that remain for Michelle and the McCubbins, however, will be filled with activities she mentioned in her nomination of the family:
"Once I got Lisa's letter last year, I was excited," she said. "It was real. The most important part of being in this family is that they do not treat you differently. They are always helping me. I can talk to them like I have known them my whole life. My host family has made my dream of being an exchange student come true."
(Ayusa is currently accepting applications for families to host an exchange student for the 2013-20014 school year. Information is available on the website www.ayusa.org or by calling 1-888-552-9872.)