Heartland family opens home for exchange student, recommends experience to other families

Imagine opening your home to another family's child, all so they can go to school and experience life in a different country
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 10:18 PM CDT
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VIENNA, Ill. (KFVS) - We’ve all been to school at some point in our lives, whether it’s high school or college, and you might remember having class with a foreign exchange student.

Just last school year alone, Prosperity for America, an education organization, reported nearly 950,000 different international students made their way to the states.

One of those students found their way into the home and the hearts of a Heartland family.

Jacinta and Matt Hupe’s story starts at Vienna high school.

“We both played the oboe in the band, that’s how we met,” Jacinta said.

These high school sweethearts would eventually get married and raise their children in the very school they met.

Fast-forward to last school year. That’s when Matt said he received an email from the school.

“They were asking for host families, and at first they sent out an email, saying some of the kids were in the last time that they could actually go on the exchange program,” Matt explained.

This would be done through a program called PAX. It’s an academic exchange program where you can look through a database of students ready to study abroad.

That’s where the Hupes said one kid from Germany really stuck out to them.

“He liked scouts, liked youth group, Johnny Cash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, he seemed like a cool kid, so we went for it,” Matt said.

After a more than 4,000 mile airplane ride from Germany, the family welcomed Victor to the states.

Victor, the exchange student, reflected on his time in America.

“He came over and wanted cowboy boots and cowboy hats, so after he saw one guy that was dressed up as a cowboy, at the airport, he decided he wanted to fully embrace it,” the Hupes said.

Back home in Germany, Victor is the youngest of his siblings, but in the Hupes’ home, he would become the oldest.

“I think being a big brother was really good experience, that was a lot of fun,” said Victor.

“We have two little boys that are 9 and 12 and Victor just fit right in. Being 15 when he came, he was 16 by the time he left and he was like our third child, I mean he fit in so well,” Jacinta explained.

He’d also fit in at school. He was nominated for homecoming court and walked as a freshman attendant.

“The students kind of took him under their wing and gave him that full high school experience,” Jacinta said.

In the Hupes’ home, the kitchen would be a place for them to learn more about his culture.

“A lot of their experiences are based around their type of cooking and such, so we did Christmas cooking via Zoom, with his family,” Jacinta said.

While Victor is back home in Germany, their story doesn’t end there.

Regular Zoom calls with the Hupes allow him to not only remember Vienna, but also more.

“I think it’s important to think of less about the place where you are, it’s more about the people you are with,” Victor said.

“There’s a piece missing now, which is the hard part of this but no regrets whatsoever,” Jacinta added.

Vienna’s high school superintendent said the school district needs more host families like the Hupes. But not just in Vienna, he hopes more will open their doors across the Heartland.

If you or anyone you know might be interested, here’s a link to the PAX website.