Home away from home
Host family helps change the world one student at a time
BY SIMANTALI BATTISE
Ashley Frantz is just one area woman doing her part to change the world.
As both a host parent and the regional advisor for the Bayou Region of the International Student Exchange, she helps provide homes for students from across the globe.
Her love for student exchange started when she was a teenager herself.
“We hosted a girl whenever I was in high school. It was about 15 years ago,” Frantz said. “She was from Germany. Her name was Bea. That’s what opened my whole world up to exchange. She’s my German sister. She’s family.”
Frantz added that she recently visited Germany to spend time with Bea.
“Then as an adult, it was because Teresa (their first host student) needed a home,” Frantz said. “I saw it on Facebook, and I wanted to help a kid out.”
The wife and mother of one then started digging deeper into the program and its benefits.
“Yes, they want to come here and better their English. That’s the main priority because it helps them in their future,” she said. “But they get to come here and experience the aspect of family life — the way in Louisiana, we’re all about togetherness. They do that in their countries, as well. It’s just different here.”
That feeling of togetherness is what keeps Frantz going.
“We’re helping change the world. Not only for those kids, but our kids, as well,” she said. “A lot of people may never get to travel to those places. So bringing a piece of those countries into our lives — we get to experience a whole new culture in our community. We’re all the same people. We just live different lives.”
Frantz wants to find more host homes for students from around the world, who wish to experience the United States school system. She is heartbroken each time she is forced to tell a student no if there is a shortage of homes. She wants more local residents to open their homes and hearts to these teenagers wishing to experience a different culture.
The International Student Exchange Bayou Region is a non-profit organization that brings foreign exchange students to the United States to live and learn with loving American host families.
“Right now, we’re taking applications because there’s limited spots at all of the different high schools for the upcoming school year,” Frantz said. “Kids are already applying. They’ve been working for years to apply for this program.
“Now it’s our turn to find a family for them to share life with when they experience life in America. We need tons of families. The more families we get, the more diverse we can be.”
She said providing a home for an exchange student is “really easy.”
“You just need three meals a day, a comfy bed and be willing to be open-minded and accepting of another person,” she said.
“We’re looking for famliies now. We need them. It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to host these students and share their life with them.”
Frantz makes sure the host home and family is the right one for the student.
Iasmine Farias, a student from Brazil, and Betim Shala, from Germany — both attending Barbe High School — both love Ashley and her husband, Jonathan, and the home they have provided for them.
Both foreign exchange students talked about the differences they’ve seen between their culture and ours. On how the church operates in a community, Shala said “Where I’m from, church is an internal thing. Here the church gives to the community.”
Frantz said exchange students don’t normally volunteer in their own countries.
“They’re fascinated with how we give back in our communities,” she said. “They absolutely love serving and being able to help others. It gets our kids involved. Host siblings, host cousins, friends from school — it brings everyone together to expand volunteerism in our area.”
The two also commented on their newfound love for gumbo and spicy food.
Ashley loves the experience of having students from around the world stay at her home.
“It’s exciting to learn about other countries and culture,” said Ashley. “My daughter would tell the other kids in her class that she has a bunch of brothers and sisters.”
Ashley said having students in her home has given her daughter the opportunity to learn about how large the world is.
She had no plans on doing something like this, but when one family wasn’t able to provide a place for Ashley’s first guest, she and her husband decided to go for it.”She became a second daughter to us,” Ashley said, describing her time with Teresa Hernandez, a foreign exchange student from Spain. The bond they felt with Teresa was so strong that they went across the pond to see her again and want her to be able to return so she can continue her schooling at McNeese.
She recounted how one of her guests — a student named Lyn from China — had never stepped on grass. The family had her walk outside barefoot to experience what we think is mundane.
“Lyn was just taken back by grass. She thought it was only in the movies,” Frantz said. “Our students see a yellow school bus for the first time — and they’re so excited to see a yellow school bus. They think that’s only in movies. They get to be exposed to a whole different world. It’s stretching them as a person, at such a critical time in their life as a teenager.”
Frantz and her husband take their exchange students on trips around the state. She has taken them to New Orleans and Acadian village, a typical Louisiana experience that helps the student get a feel for the wide variety of culture and lifestyles in the state and country.
“It wasn’t too much of an adjustment to get used to. They fit right in.” Ashley said when asked if it was difficult to adjust to the new guest staying over. ‘I love being able to provide something like this for them, and it’s nice to learn more about the world.”
For more information on hosting a foreign exchange student, contact Ashley Frantz at 337-309-2437, by email at Frantzexchange@yahoo.com or visit bayou.iseusa.org.
Foreign exchange student Betim Shala of Germany, third from right, attends his first American football game at Alfred M. Barbe High School with his host family, Ashley and Jonathan Frantz, from right, along with their daughter, Paisley Dean, left; McNeese student Aaron Young, and foreign exchange student Iasmin Farias of Brazil.
Host family Jonathan and Ashley Frantz with their daughter Paisley Dean, enjoy a vacation in Belgium with foreign exchange students, Teresa Hernandez of Spain, left; and Iasmin Farias of Brazil, center.