Hosts needed for European teens -- now | June 7, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 7, 2013

Hosts needed for European teens -- now

Make friends from all over the world through exchange program

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

When the Yvette and Phil Hornig family hosted an exchange student from Spain a few years ago, offspring Brett and Brie weren't sure what to expect.

"They said, 'This person that we don't know, they'll live in our house?'" Yvette Hornig remembered with a laugh.

Pleasanton residents Yvette and Phil both had foreign exchange students in their homes as teenagers in Hayward and Castro Valley so they anticipated a good experience.

"We explained, 'They're high school students. They're screened. We're not just picking up a random person off the street,'" Hornig recalled.

"If they get hungry, do they get to get up and just rummage through the pantry?" the kids also asked.

"Yes, we want to make them part of the family," Hornig explained. "Until that first night he was here, I think they were a little nervous. Then, when he was here, they thought, 'Holy cow, he's just like us.'"

Jon Zubeldia, 15, turned out to be from the Basque region, which made it interesting for all of them as he spoke three languages. He was a year younger than Brett and four years older than Brie.

"Age-wise it worked out perfectly," Hornig said. "One thing he wanted to do first was go through a drive-through and get a hamburger. They really want to do teenage things, they want to do things your own kids want to do."

Brett was a runner at Amador Valley High and Jon, a soccer player, accompanied him on his runs.

The Hornigs hosted Jon through Edu-Culture Immersion, a company started in Pleasanton in 1998 by Phyllis O'Neill, who is still executive director. The host family coordinator was taken ill this year so O'Neill herself is now searching for homes in Pleasanton -- and many more are needed. Students will arrive from Spain and France starting June 24 for three to four weeks.

"Everybody's schedules are so busy, it gets harder every year," said O'Neill.

Hosts have to provide a bed for each visitor, breakfast, sometimes a lunch to go and dinner. Edu-Culture has Ikea beds it can loan to host families.

Families benefit incredibly by sharing their homes and their lives with these students, O'Neill said, noting that hosts do not need to have children at home.

"Empty-nesters can take two kids," she suggested. "Working families are fine."

The teens will be busy each weekday with activities ranging from swimming to touring the Pleasanton Police Department and having lunch downtown. Excursions include BART rides to San Francisco for several days, a day at Santa Cruz, a tour of UC Berkeley and an overnight in Southern California.

"One thing that also makes it fun being a host family is if there's room on the bus your kids can go along as well," Hornig said. "Other students from France and Austria and Spain, myself and two kids went to a Giants game and a tour of San Francisco. It was just a lot of fun."

"During weekends and evenings they will have done a lot of activities so people don't have to feel they have to entertain them," O'Neill said, explaining that they like to experience everyday life in America.

Hornig said Jon was fascinated by the wide array of cereals here and tried them all.

"He loved going to grocery stories. Ours are just enormous and open 24 hours a day, that's a weird thing for them," she said. "He packed his luggage with cereals he'd tried here."

Edu-Culture interviews the host families before placing the visiting teens, provides chaperones and guides, and is available to help with any problem or emergency.

O'Neill said she has hosted students about 20 times and consequently has friends around the world.

"It's a way of traveling without leaving home, a sharing of language," she said. "My kids' lives have been changed. They both studied abroad, they are both world travelers.

"We have friends all over the world," she continued. "We went to the wedding of someone we hosted, in Germany. A student from Japan brought her baby to visit us.

"The world is so much smaller when you know people from other countries. It opens your eyes in a way that isn't possible just by reading a book or going to school or to a movie."

Hornig said her family would love to host another student but their summers have been too busy. She highly recommends the experience.

"I wish more people would just try it out. It's not as intrusive as you might think, it doesn't disrupt your family routine," Hornig said.

"The saddest day was when they were all getting on BART, getting ready to go home. I think they all bonded together, it was just really a lot of fun," she added.

"We get in our own little bubble here in Pleasanton, and that was one of the best things we've done. I'd recommend it for anyone, especially if you have kids."

To learn about hosting a teen

Call Phyllis O'Neill, executive director of Edu-Culture Immersion, at 596-1925, or visit


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