Raleigh family learns from international exchange students

Posted March 19, 2016 12:40 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:04 p.m. EDT

— For those who have been living in the U.S. for their whole life, it is hard to imagine the challenges of leaving home to live and study in another country. Every year, dozens of international students – from countries as varied as Poland and Thailand – get that chance in the Wake County Public School System. In 2015-16, 69 foreign students faced language barriers, cultural difference and homesickness in a one-of-a-kind learning experience.

Ginger and Andy Cordes are among those who make it happen. During the past decade, they have hosted 16 international students from Germany, Portugal, Australia, Serbia, Netherlands, Portugal, Vietnam, Venezuela, Montenegro, Spain and China.

"Every student we had, I think, added something to our lives because of their personality and their culture," Ginger Cordes said. "We learned so much and gained an appreciation for differences, but then how much everybody is the same.”

Cordes said hosting foreign students is not an expensive proposition. She described the costs as "three meals a day and lots and lots of love and support.”

Each student spent 10 months living with the Cordeses in Raleigh. With their "American parents'" love and support, each had a memorable experience in this country.

exchange students

Sebastian Jebe from Germany writes:

“The first semester was kind of tough for Filip (another host student who stayed with the Cordes family) and me. We were used to a lot more freedom and self-reliance back at home and really missed going wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. As exchange students we weren't allowed to drive a car by ourselves, that's why we always had to be driven around, which Ginger and Andy happily did with a blink of an eye.

Staying at the house wasn't much of a punishment. We played pool, table tennis and Guitar Hero together, and there was never a silent moment, because we always had interesting things to talk about.

Going home, I really had a guilty conscience, because I had the feeling I couldn't ever pay them back what they did for me. And in that age, I just couldn't possibly be as appreciative as I am now. They are wonderful, and I am so happy I can see them again in April, when I finally manage to come back for a visit.”

exchange students

Fuyang Yang, a Chinese exchange student said:

"Ginger is such a nice person that I want to spend my whole time with her. I still can remember the first time when I met her. I was too shy to talk with the other strangers, but for her personality, I couldn’t feel the pressure so that I could talk with her slowly and generally although, my English wasn’t good at that time. Ginger encouraged me a lot. I have to say she is the reason why I can speak English confidently.

Ginger also liked to create opportunities for her exchanges to hang out together. That made us can get involved into American life easily.

The exchange year was one of my best experiences, I feel very grateful I can meet Ginger. She is not only a perfect helper, but also a great friend.

Now I am a college student who studies in America. We still keep in touch very often (We Skype at least once a week). If I have any problems, Ginger will be the first person I would like to call.”

Students in foreign exchange programs typically pay a fee and are required to have their own health insurance and spending money. They are between the ages of 16 and 19, and need to pass an English proficiency test.

The demand for host families is always high, and a number of credible programs exist to help residents ready their home for an international student guest. The Cordeses used American Councils for International Education.

Zhan Zhang is a senior Broadcast and Digital Journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She wants to work as a photojournalist or cinematographer.