By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
The main objective for the Center for Cultural Exchange Greenheart program is to "make a difference in the lives of international students."
But host families in the United States will tell you hosting a teenager from another country in their home for nine months makes a difference in their lives as well.
Dan and Mary Kay Schippers answered a call for host families in their church bulletin last summer.
The rural Ellis County couple hosted Ferdinand Poschenrieder from Germany, who attended Victoria High School this school year.
Poschenrieder said it's a year he never will forget. Now, he considers the Schippers part of his family.
"The neat thing was that we had gone to high school at Victoria," said Mary Kay Schippers, a 1974 graduate of VHS along with her husband. "This allowed us to get back with the high school activities."
The Schippers lived in Hays for 30-plus years while raising their own two sons before moving to the family farm 3 miles southeast of Victoria a few years ago.
Their sons are grown with families of their own now, so they decided to go out on a limb.
"We did this as a service; they needed host families," Dan Schippers said of the program. "But we got so much out of it, too. Now, if we get the courage to go Germany, we know we will have a welcome over there. We didn't have that before."
Kori Braun, guidance counselor at VHS who serves as a regional coordinator for CCI Greenheart, agreed.
"It's a great program," Braun said. "This brings a little culture to our students here. It gives students from other countries a chance to experience American life. And the host families also benefit. It's a win-win situation."
Even Poschenrieder's mom, who said she missed her youngest child being around the house this year, said she thought it would be a good experience for him.
"My house was empty and quiet, and it was quite an adjustment for me," said Eva Poschenrieder, who came to Kansas to accompany her son home this week. "But I knew he would profit from this."
Eva Poschenrieder's two older children attended school in New York when they were younger before the family moved to Germany.
The Poschenrieders still have family living in America, and that's what got "Ferdi," as he is known to family and friends, interested in studying in the United States.
"I wanted to give Ferdi the same opportunities his siblings had," his mother said.
Poschenrieder, who lives in the city of Dresden -- population 530,000 -- took to rural Kansas in a hurry.
"I enjoy this whole farm-life thing," he said.
"You need family, but this was a time to try to be a bit more independent. I like the whole American dream idea and wanted to experience American people."
Elisa Zoppolaro, another exchange student at VHS this year, had a different family experience. She stayed with John and Karen Nowak, who have three young daughters ages 4 to 9.
"I am an only child," Zoppolaro said. "So I really enjoyed having three younger 'sisters.' "
Dan Schippers said he and his wife first heard about the program two years ago and took it as a sign to explore it when they saw information about it in their church bulletin.
"People need to think about being willing to try this," he said. "It may not fit everybody; I'm sure it's not for everybody. But it's worth checking out."
"It was a faith thing for us," his wife said. "And it's been a great experience."
Braun also placed an international student this year with a Hays couple, Dave and Karen Wasinger. Anyone interested in learning more about the specifics of being a host family can contact Braun at (785) 735-4161.