Our Foreign Adventure | Living the Country Life

Our Foreign Adventure

Hosting an exchange student was a last-minute idea, but it turned out to be a very rewarding experience.
Caroline (left) and Michelle soar over the field.


Two weeks before school started last August, my daughter, Caroline, 17, said she wanted to host an exchange student. “I never had a sister,” she said. I was certain it was too late. She talked to someone who talked to someone, and by that evening, a woman from International Student Exchange was sitting in my kitchen holding a stack of forms. My husband, Bob, came home for supper unaware of what was going on. We were both skeptical, but after hearing the pitch and seeing how excited Caroline was, we relented. We told her she could select the student, and she chose Michelle Svantesson, 18, from Sweden.

Poor Michelle had just a few days notice that she was headed to a “goat farm in Iowa” for the school year. She lived an urban life in Stockholm and had never been on a farm or heard of Iowa. This was a nine-month stint without a trip home — an adventure almost as scary as the one Swedes undertook 150 years ago when they came here to settle. I was anxious, as well. Would she like my (sometimes pitiful) cooking? Would she be homesick? Would she be afraid of Little Billy, the goat? (Yes.) But she and Caroline bonded immediately, and soon I had another daughter.

Dreadlocks, goats, and a great adventure

Now, I have to mention that Michelle has long dreadlocks, a hairstyle not often seen in our neck of the woods. Some people encouraged her to cut off her dreads before arriving in Iowa. But she didn’t want to and we didn’t want her to. Bob said as long as her hair didn’t get caught in farm machinery he didn’t care.

So the past year has been a wonderful adventure. Michelle has helped stack hay and birth goats. She attends church, competes on the swim and track teams, and will graduate with Caroline in May. All of us took a leap of faith and it worked.

Have you hosted an exchange student? Tell me about the experience – good and bad. Email your stories to staff@livingthecountrylife.com

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