Horizons Du Monde matches French students and area host families

By on April 20, 2016

Lancaster County is a tourist destination, so hearing different accents isn’t that uncommon. The area also attracts a number of foreign visitors for business or education purposes. But we may be hearing more French accents over the next few weeks as 33 students and three adults arrived on March 29 for a 10-day stay as part of Horizons Du Monde’s ongoing educational program.

Vicki Kurtz, the organization’s local coordinator, explained that the organization has been working with students for over 30 years and has developed an educational home stay program that involves students in the culture, language and lifestyle of different cultures.

“Academic schedules, sightseeing activities and host family relationships are carefully selected so the foreign student and host family have a meaningful experience,” Kurtz said. “Educational home stay programs are an exciting opportunity for personal development on an international level.”

While here, students will visit area attractions such as the Amish Farmhouse and the Turkey Hill Experience as well as Washington, D.C., and New York City. They’ll also visit several different high schools for a day. All of this while living with an area host family.

“A good host family is one that invites the foreign student to be not a guest but part of their family. I am amazed at how connected the students become with their host families. I have many times heard students refer to their host parents as their American mommy and daddy,” Kurtz said, “Families usually host because they want to broaden their horizons”.

With the Horizons Du Monde program, the host family selects the student they’ll host after viewing the student profiles. Additionally 85 percent of the host families are from the Manheim Central and Warwick areas.

“There’s really not a certain host family profile. The important thing is that they’ll open their hearts to the student as well as their home,” Kurtz said adding that host families may be families with young or teenage children, empty nesters or even recently married couples without children.

Kathy and Darrell Walter have been a host family for a year. This is the third student they’ve hosted, and they’ve all been girls.

“I was an exchange student in college and spent a semester in England, so being a host family is something that I wanted to do based on my experience,” Kathy Walter said.

The Lititz couple has two children of their own, Jenna, 15, and Nathan, 13. Kathy said that Jenna was already taking French in school and being a host family has fueled her desire to learn the language.

“Being a host family has really been great,” Walter said. “It’s not only given the kids an appreciation of another culture, but they can now truly see that the world is bigger than their backyard.”

As soon as the family learns who their student will be, they begin to reach out to them via email and/or social media. The student they’re currently hosting is from a town near the French/Belgium border, about two-hours from Brussels.


French exchange students from Horizons Du Monde enjoyed a trip to the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster (above), and the Turkey Hill Experience in Columbia (below). Eighty-five percent of the host families are from the Manheim Central and Warwick areas. (Photos by Horizons Du Monde)

French exchange students from Horizons Du Monde enjoyed a trip to the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster (above), and the Turkey Hill Experience in Columbia (below). Eighty-five percent of the host families are from the Manheim Central and Warwick areas. (Photos by Horizons Du Monde)


“As soon as we heard about the terrorist attacks on Brussels, we contacted her,” Walter said. “We wanted to be sure that she and her family were OK and to assure her that we’re thinking of the people over there.”

One of the other students they hosted was from a small town and the other was from Marseille.

“Things that amazed all three of the girls were the size of our homes and cars. They’re so much larger than what they’re used to,” Walter explained. “Our student from Marseille found our school buses interesting. She takes the subway to school.”

She said that the language has not been a barrier at all.

“They learn English at school, and are excited to practice with us and learn how Americans actually speak the language,” she said, “We’ll try to speak a bit of French with them; sometimes it’s hard to find the exact word, so we may resort to the translator on our iPhone.”

Mary and Travis Whiting and their four children have been a host family for three years. The Manheim family has hosted both French and Spanish students.

“We don’t really speak French, but our son, Kody, does have a smattering of Spanish,” Mary said.

“Our kids are embracing other languages because they’ve been exposed to them as part of this program,” Travis added. “It’s inspired our daughter to take French in school.”

He agrees with Walter that the experience has also broadened the children’s viewpoint.

“It’s about learning that the world is really big and different than Manheim, Pennsylvania,” he said.

Horizons Du Monde has activities planned during the days Monday through Friday, so host families have evenings and weekends with their students. As a stay-at-home mom, Walter is available to drive during weekday activities, and she said that’s helped form a deeper connection with the students. Mary Whiting said that she’s had that same experience.

“It’s really neat to be with them as they see New York or Washington for the first time,” she said. “They’re familiar with iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building or Washington Monument from movies or TV, but there’s so much else to take in.”

“During weeknights, they’re usually worn out from the day’s activities, so we use that time be together as a family,” Walter added. “Over the weekend, we focus on special activities — things that we generally do ourselves as a family.”

Those activities have included cookouts and making s’mores, going for ice cream, visiting local festivals such as the Lititz Pretzel Fest or going to the grocery store.

“They’ve been amazed to see our grocery stores,” Walter said. “They’re so much bigger and offer such a wide variety.”

The Whitings agree that weeknights are generally time for the students to decompress.

“They’re really curious about our day-to-day living and what American family life is like. We’ll share little things like going to Molly’s for a slushy,” Travis said.

“Sometimes we’ll watch an American movie that shows life in this country,” his wife, Mary, added. “So much of what the students know about our country they’ve learned from the movies, so that’s a good way to start a conversation. They’re not sure if what they see in movies is really true. We’ll talk about prom or other typical American experiences.”

Additionally the Whitings make sure there’s an extended family gathering during the students’ stay.

“Big family outings are a great way to show students a slice of our culture,” Mary Whiting stressed. “They get to see an extended family, how both children and adults interact and the fames kids play. It also exposes them to real American food.”

Both families agree that sports is also an avenue for learning about cultures. Walter said that through the students they’ve hosted, the family has learned that sports in France are community-based rather than school-based,

“All the funding for the schools goes to education,” she said.

Mary Whiting said that the family’s students have been surprised by how involved she is in her children’s sporting activities such as Little League Baseball or school track & field.

“I drive them to games and usually sit and cheer them on,” she said.

Both families agree that the experience has been invaluable.

“So much of why we do this is to broaden our family’s knowledge base. We also want our kids to remember the experiences they’ve had with the students and realize that it’s something special,” Mary Whiting stressed.

The families also remain in contact with the students they’ve hosted after they return home. Whiting said that one of the students they’ve hosted is now in college and visited with the family earlier this year while on a college break.

“We love her as if she was one of our kids, and I’ve become friends with her mom,” she said.

“I think we’ll have a lifelong connection with all of our students,” Travis added.

Kathy Walter said that her family also remains in touch with the students they’ve hosted.

“Social media and phone apps make it easy to share what’s going on in our lives,” she explained.

“Without host families this program would not be successful,” Kurtz said,

She explained that she’s deeply committed to the program. She has worked with teens for a number of years and enjoys traveling to other countries and being immersed in their culture.

“The opportunity to work with Horizons Du Monde came out of the blue, but it’s a good fit for me,” Kurtz said. “I love knowing that I have friends from all over Europe and have made an impact on many young lives.”

She is currently seeking host families for another group of Horizons Du Monde French students for a summer stay. They will be her July 7 through 26. Interested families should contact Kurtz at 917-8119 or kurtzvm@gmail,.com or via Facebook: facebook.com/VickiKurtzManheimCoordinatorForHorizonsDuMonde/.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at RAASHENK@aol.com.

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