GRATIS — A Preble Shawnee family has been hosting an Egyptian foreign exchange student since August of 2017. Clara Luis has been staying with Terry and Nichole Johnson through CIEE’s USA High School program. She has been attending Preble Shawnee High School, where she even helped out with the recent spring play.
Luis will leave her host family in June, when she will travel back to her home in Cairo, Egypt.
According to the Johnsons, Luis has become a huge part of the family — they even think of her as another daughter. She made such an impact on their lives, that the family has actually become program coordinators for next school year.
Each year, international high school students representing more than 60 nationalities come to the U.S. to experience American culture as part of CIEE’s USA High School program. Students live as typical American teenagers — attending a U.S. high school, living with an American host family, and participating in extracurricular activities and sports.
During their stay, students also give back to their host communities through many volunteering and community service opportunities. Through its USA High School program, CIEE provides life-changing cultural exchanges that help students, families, and schools gain new perspectives and develop lifelong relationships that cross borders and cultures.
For Luis, the trip to America has been nothing like she expected. She found out about the program and applied, all the while thinking of the American stereotypes she knew. Instead of Ohio, she was expecting to go somewhere like New York, as she knew nothing about the Buckeye State. She especially did not expect to end up on a farm, but she is glad she did.
“I wanted to do the program, because it is different and had different things to do,” Luis said. “It’s been pretty cool. They haven’t left me from the first time I got here. They picked me up from the airport and we went out to eat. We did a lot of stuff.”
“I never imagined coming to a farm, but it’s been awesome and I love it so much,” she added. “I rode horses for the first time in my life, which was so amazing. I’ve been teaching people at school about Egypt. People think about camels, pyramids, and deserts when they hear ‘Egypt,’ but there is so much more to it. They know now.”
As for the Johnson family, Nichole Johnson explained, her family hosted a Japanese student when she was younger. She even had the opportunity to visit her exchange sister from Japan.
“I enjoyed it and thought it was a good experience. I wanted my children to have the same experience,” she said. “A friend of ours hosted and we got to meet her student, so we decided to do it. We got so involved, we became local coordinators. As coordinators, we help supervise students that are placed with different families. Host families can be really involved, and bring the student on as a son or daughter. Or they can be as little involved as providing a place to live and food to eat.
“You learn stuff that you never thought you would and you keep learning. Clara [Luis] taught me about ancient Egypt, which is something I knew nothing about. We learned about different religions. We learned about topics that are controversial here, but she explains it different.”
Luis has even taught the family some Arabic and prepared Egyptian food for them, which they love. Luis has essentially become a part of the Johnson family. They think of her as a daughter and she of them as a second family. Luis even got to go prom dress shopping with both of her mothers — Nichole Johnson video messaged Luis’ mother to help pick out the dress.
The Johnsons have traveled to different places in Ohio, as well as different tourist locations throughout the country, allowing Luis to see more than just Preble County.
“At first we were hesitant, because we thought we didn’t have time, but you just have to jump in and do it,” Nichole Johnson added. “You would be surprised how much time you actually have once you just try. We are busy, but we really do have the time and we make it. It is like taking on a new child for life.”
Interested in hosting an international exchange student? Contact CIEE local coordinators Terry and Nichole Johnson at 937-634-3131 or visit fb.me/swohciee to learn more.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH