A Remarkable High School Exchange Year and a Puppy?!

Cultural exchange experiences can be life-changing for the high schooler AND for the host family AND for the host pets! We were delighted to hear this story from Bob and Shawna about their host mom and dad experience this past year….what pleasant surprises and unforgettable moments. And yes, there’s a puppy involved!

This was our first time hosting a student. What was I thinking! We were empty nested. I thought I’d like to try new things. Why not?  We couldn’t host until after our children were grown and out of the house. Time to give back.

We reviewed about four applicant files before becoming comfortable with our chosen student. We wanted to make sure she would fit into our lifestyle and we mutually with hers. We chose Jone from Sopela, Spain. It was strange to hear how her school programs worked.  No breakfast or lunch offered. No school sport programs. All the activities are in extracurricular clubs.  

We had to convince the school board to allow more than two students per year into the district. If we didn’t; we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting Jone and her family. By doing this, the district opened two more spots for exchange students in our high school. 

Hosting was a fantastic experience. We were learning about her culture, and she was anxious to learn about ours.  Jone jumped right into the school. She joined the cross-country team for fall. She continued with winter weights to keep in shape until track began in the spring.  She decided to try hurdles and found that challenging.  Jone attended her first Homecoming dance, Winter formal, and Prom. I think she was excited and seemed to have a great time with her friends. 

Jone was exceptionally quiet. Her dad even warned us. It was a struggle to get her to relax, smile, and laugh.  We did later find out that her dad and Bob (host dad) were similar.  We celebrated New Year’s Eve with her family via Skype. It was only 5:00 p.m. here and midnight in Spain. We tried to go about how they celebrated with family; her grandparents, mom, dad and sister.  In Spain, they eat a grape every time the bell chimes. We learned that I should have bought smaller size grapes. We looked like we had chipmunk cheeks.

The hardest adjustment for us was having to pick up Jone from school sport practices. We live 11 miles from school. She rode the bus to and from school when there wasn’t any practice. Those days were few. Exchange students are not allowed to drive while here. If you already have kids in sports and are used to driving, then it’s no big deal.  We admit we were spoiled when our kids were able to drive themselves to and from school, sports and work. At one point, Jone wanted to go back home for the summer then return here for school. She loved the school.

While Jone was here, our Welsh Corgi Pembroke, Isabel, had six puppies.  We had the Yellowstone litter born October 4th, 2022. We had one male and five females. Jone loved coming home to the puppies. She loves dogs and cats. She is a magnet for animals. 

When the puppies were about two weeks old, Bob asked her if she would like to take a puppy home to Spain, on one condition – her parents would have to say yes. The very next morning Jone came running into the kitchen before school and said, ” my dad said yes”. And so, the saga began on how we get a dog to Spain.  Jone started researching what was required for the pup to travel. In Spain, they need to have a pet passport, be microchipped, and up-to-date on vaccines, as well as have a rabies certificate. Also, when traveling internationally the pet must have a USDA stamp for flying, within 10 days of flight. Easy.  No problem, right?  WRONG.

The first bump in the road was that certain airlines do not allow international travel of pets in the main cabin. Most require them to go cargo.  Cargo is EXPENSIVE ($X, XXX).  The airline she was booked on – cancellation/change policy had already passed since it was purchased as a round trip back in March 2022. So, we did look into cargo.  It also had a major flaw, the temperatures. Excessive heat or cold and the pets don’t fly. Well, being from Kansas and the first stop was Dallas, TX which gets even hotter than Kansas was a no-go. USDA paperwork was done for June 5th – too hot to travel.  The puppy had to stay with us. Upset Jone, Upset host family. Drained emotionally.

The saga continued. We began frantically searching all avenues to get Jone her pup, Teeter. Shawna found an airline that allowed two pets per flight internationally in the cabin for a reasonable fee. The planning began to get Bob (host dad) out to Spain with Teeter. A date was chosen by Bob and Jone’s dad, Jon. July 13th ready or not here they come. All vet paperwork and USDA paperwork had to be completed again. Tiny little problem; Teeter had grown some more. The kennel that had to fit under the seat had to conform to 11″x11″ x 18″.  Teeter herself was 22 in long. Teeter practiced for two weeks prior to travel in her kennel.  We were sure glad she liked to sleep all curled up. The soft kennel expanded so she could stretch out once the seatbelt sign was off. Bob said Teeter did great on the flight. 

Jone and Teeter were reunited on July 14th morning. Teeter now has two German Shepherds and a cat for siblings. Bob got to spend a week with Jone’s family; he celebrated grandma’s birthday, saw some amazing sites, and enjoyed their culture. 

There is an open invitation to Jone and her family to come visit anytime and should Jone choose to go to college here, she is more than welcome.  

I believe our host year was a great success for both parties…and Teeter!

In addition to the host family’s story, Janice, their Greenheart Local Coordinator, added:

“In addition to what Shawna has told you, I want to add my praise.  Jone was an exceptional student in every way, adjusting beautifully to the family, school and community.  She maintained a perfect 4.00 grade point average and embraced the American school extracurricular experiences, truly having the “Friday Night Lights” experience.  She volunteered 32.5 hours and was selected as one of the students to go on the Greenheart Hawaii trip.  Naturally quiet and shy, we watched her become more confident as the year progressed and she developed strong relationships with family and friends.  As a coordinator you always work for a perfect family/student/school match and we definitely got that with Jone.  I wonder how many Spanish words Teeter has learned? It took a lot of effort but he and his person are back together again.”

Thank you, Shawna and Bob, Jone and Janice for sharing such an inspiring experience with us! Here’s wishing Teeter all the best on her cultural exchange experience.

Interested in hosting a Greenheart Exchange high-school student like Jone? Visit HostwithGreenheart.org to learn more, to Meet our Students, and to apply.