Tag Archives: host

Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Never say never,” says Brenda Christensen when asked if she’ll ever host foreign exchange students again in her family’s home in Elkhorn.

Christensen and husband Mike Morris have hosted three students since 2009, all from Tonsberg, Norway. “We talked about it extensively as a family,” she says. “Everyone had to be in, or we weren’t going to do it.” That “everyone” included Christensen and Morris’ three kids: Wells, 20, Greta, 18, and Tatum, 13.

Marthe Gjelstad was their first student, staying with them from August 2009 through June 2010. “The kids found her in an online [foreign exchange] student profile,” explains Christensen. “We were so in love with this girl. It couldn’t have been more perfect. [And] we were so heartbroken when she left.”

During Marthe’s stay, Christensen says she claimed the school’s Prom Queen title because everyone—both students and teachers—loved her. “She was so funny, loving, and oh my gosh, we just adored this girl. Just beautiful inside and out.”

That was the first time Christensen believed her family would never host a foreign exchange student again “because everyone would be measured up against Marthe, and that really wasn’t fair to anyone else.”

But remember—never say never. Eventually, the Christensen-Morris family took in Marthe’s neighbor and friend back in Norway, Kristin Lien. She stayed with them for only four months. “That was a good experience, too,” Christensen says. “Kristin wanted to embrace, see, and learn everything American. She just wanted to do it all, and she was very social and outgoing.” Like Marthe, Kristin grew very close with the family, especially the Morris kids.

When Kristin left, Christensen once again said that they would never host a foreign exchange student again. But then from August 2012 through June 2013, they took in Marthe’s brother, Markus.

“Markus was more introverted,” she says. “He was more interested in academics, and he wanted to live a year as an American teenager. But he wasn’t nearly as brave or outgoing as the girls.”

The Christensen-Morris family remains close with the Gjelstad and Lien kids and their families. Photo taken in Norway, August 2011.

The Christensen-Morris family remains close with the Gjelstad and Lien kids and their families (Photo taken in Norway, August 2011). Back: Markus Gjelstad, Wells Morris, Vegard Lien, Asbjorn Lien, Vidar Gjelstad, Kristin Gjelstad. Middle: Mike Morris, Kristin Lien, Marthe Gjelstad, Greta Morris, Rebecca Gjelstad. Front: Brenda Christensen, Berit Lien, Tatum Morris, Hakon Lien.

For the most part, Christensen says that they were home-free of difficulties with the students. “We had to occasionally force Markus out of his comfort zone to get him to experience things. [Otherwise], all three had great English skills,” she says.

After seeing some of the other foreign exchange students secondhand, Christensen is very glad that she and her family hosted three very good kids. “Sometimes, [foreign exchange students] aren’t well-behaved. They’ll get into drinking or drugs or break curfew. Other times, the families didn’t think about the commitment, and it’s a huge commitment.”

Clearly, the experience has been wonderful for the Christensen-Morris family, as they’ve even seen their students since. “We have seen Marthe every year. Last year, we traveled to Italy, and she met us there. Kristin came back over last year, and we met her parents in Chicago. We established a beautiful relationship with both families.”

Like the Christensen-Morris family, Trisha Powell of Bennington loves hosting foreign exchange students. She and husband Michael and their two kids, Olivia, 10, and Jace, 3 mos., have hosted six foreign exchange students from Germany, Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands, and Slovenia.

But Trisha and Michael aren’t just host parents; they’re also very active in Ayusa International, a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural exchange programs for high school students around the world.

“We work with several families who choose to host year after year,” explains Powell. “We also ask our families to help refer other families who may be interested, [as] we are always looking for host families willing to open their homes and hearts to an Ayusa student.”

When a family is ready to host a student, a local Ayusa representative takes them through the application process to find and choose a good student match. The steps are:

  • View information online (at ayusa.org) about Ayusa’s program and types of students who are interested in living with a host family and spending a year in the United States.
  • Complete the Ayusa online hosting application. Ayusa provides a list of questions, requests five references, and asks that families sign a program agreement.
  • Once the application is submitted, an Ayusa representative assists with completion of the additional hosting requirements: a criminal background check and in-home interview. When a host family is approved, they may login to select a student.

Throughout the Ayusa exchange program, a local representative works with the family, student, and school to make certain the stay is mutually beneficial. “Students come from all over the world, [and] all of them come to experience the American way of life and a year in an American high school,” Powell says.

“American culture is often very different from what they are used to,” she adds. “Different food, different schools, a different way of life with a different family—[that] can sometimes be stressful for the first bit of time here.” But Powell says most foreign exchange students get used to everything after a while.

Powell highly recommends hosting a foreign exchange student. “Many times, a lifelong connection is made with students and their families,” she says. “We have several American host families who will visit the student in their home country, attend graduations, and even weddings! Many students come back to visit their host families, too. It’s a wonderful way to bring other cultures to your home and to share your cultures and traditions.”

Christensen also has great advice for families looking to host:

  • “Research the experience and the student thoroughly. Ask lots of questions of families who have hosted and select a student who will be compatible with your family.”
  • “Make sure all family members are completely engaged and committed.”
  • “Be flexible and compassionate. Remember, these kids are away from their countries, homes, schools, and families for 10 months.”
  • “Be realistic. This is not always going to be fun and easy. Don’t host a student during a year that you know will be busy or hard.”
  • “Be open to learning more and loving more than you can imagine!”

Although Christensen says her family doesn’t have any plans to host another exchange student, never say never.

For more information about foreign exchange programs and Ayusa International, visit ayusa.org or call 888-552-9872.

Becka’s Back

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The unmistakable voice that many in Omaha have come to love (or, if we’re honest, love to hate) has returned to the airwaves. In January, radio talk show host and Benson High School grad Tom Becka found himself in a familiar seat back in Dundee. (Not a Dundee Dell barstool; although, Becka is known to wax poetic on the air about his love for the Dell’s single malt scotch selection.)

Many recently remember Becka from his weekday afternoon show on KFAB (1110 AM), located in the heart of Dundee. But in October 2011, the decision was made to end Becka’s tenure with KFAB and its parent company, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. Becka insists the decision was issued not locally, but at the corporate level: “I didn’t fit their line-item formula.”

Becka then headed north for about a year, landing a job as program director for an FM talk station in Fargo, N.D. But not long after Becka set up shop, he was lured back to Omaha, sort of, hosting an afternoon talk show on KKAR (1290 AM). KKAR is owned by NRG Media and located in Becka’s old stomping grounds near 50th and Dodge streets. He pulled double-duty for several months: waking pre-dawn to host a morning talk show, managing the radio station and all its moving parts, and then prepping for his two-hour afternoon show in Omaha (broadcasting from a makeshift studio fashioned in his West Fargo apartment).

But the sale of the Fargo radio station gave Becka an opportunity to return to Omaha and pursue radio full-time…once again, in his beloved Dundee. “The Tom Becka Show” airs from 2 to 6 p.m. on 1290 AM, now dubbed the Mighty 1290 KOIL. “I am genuinely excited about helping rebuild this legendary radio station,” Becka says. “By working at 1290 KOIL…I can focus on what is happening here in Omaha, and not have to worry about what they say at the home office in Texas.”

“I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

KFAB was Becka’s home not once, but twice. He launched his talk radio career at “the 50,000-watt blowtorch” in 1994, but left five years later for an on-air job in Kansas City. He returned to Omaha (and KFAB) in 2004, where he remained until his termination in 2011.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Becka moved to Omaha his junior year of high school. (“When you move outside of Omaha and tell people your high school mascot was a bunny, they think you’re making it up.”) He studied at UNO and was active with the university’s radio station, KVNO (90.7 FM).

Although talk radio would become his wheelhouse, Becka fell hard when he discovered rock and roll. An AM Cleveland DJ by the name of Jerry G played popular tracks overnight. “He was the king of Cleveland Top 40 radio. Even though I was supposed to be asleep, I would hide a radio under the blankets and listen until late at night,” he recalls. “I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

Becka’s voice has become his signature statement: fast, high-pitched, loud, and always laced with his own opinion, whether listeners like it or not.

His career has been spent in an industry rife with obstacle, ratings, and setbacks. Becka says he has learned perseverance, adapting to change, and how to maintain friendships when lines are drawn in the sand. “I have fond memories of my time at KFAB and a lot of respect for my friends who are still working there,” Becka says. “But I am really excited about competing against them. I like to think of it as a football player who has been traded to another team. My job is to beat them, but we can remain friends off the field.”