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Bringing a small world to their living room

The Weidauers had a package from Japan waiting for them July 12. It was the epilogue to the Sandy family’s year spent hosting an exchange student form Nagasaki through Cultural Homestay International, an organization that facilitates student exchange programs nationwide.

Tim Weidauer and his wife, Tina, said the decision to host a student was a spontaneous one, made after a brief conversation at last year’s Sandy Mountain Festival.by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Tim and Tina Weidauer, and their daughter, Elisha, prepare to open a package from Japan, sent by the exchange student they hosted. The family will host a student form Poland this year.

“We were volunteering with the water polo team fund-raising booth and somebody started talking about the program,” Tim said. “It was just like that. We looked at each other and thought, ‘What do you think?’”

A month later, the Weidauers, including their 16-year-old daughter, Elisha, found themselves at Portland International Airport waiting for Fumika, their guest from Japan. Elisha laughed and described the meeting as “a little bit awkward.”

“She walked right by us,” Tim said. “She almost got away from us there.”

After some trotting after the young girl he suspected was Fumika, he called her name and she turned around.

“We really didn’t know what we were getting into, because it was so sudden,” Tina said.

While the actual meeting was somewhat of an adjustment, CHI does provide host families with a complete dossier on their potential guests. For this reason, the Weidauers were excited to meet Fumika.

“Once we got into her profile and started looking at Fumi, we could tell it was going to be interesting,” Tina said.

Exchange students are generally high achievers, and the Weidauers said Fumika was even more so. Not only did they have fun watching her get involved in choir and theater (Fumika got to travel to New York with the Sandy High School choir to sing at Lincoln Center), they also enjoyed the cultural exchange. Fumika shared her favorite foods with her host family, and they introduced her to their traditions.

“It really makes the holidays a lot of fun,” Tina said. “In Japan, for example, it’s a big deal to go to KFC on Christmas Eve, and she wondered why we weren’t going. And she was just so shocked at how much food we make at Thanksgiving.”

While the Weidauers speak of the highlights, they allude to some of the challenges as well. One example was that the language barrier, even though Fumika spoke enough English, made it difficult at times to interact, and Elisha said the pair didn’t have too much in common. Also, through the program, exchange students are responsible for their expenses, but Tim allows that, as with any house guest, there will be an increase in expenses for the family.

Despite the challenges, the Weidauers would do it all again. In fact, they are. They’ll be hosting Karolina, a Polish student, this year, and already Elisha is excited to meet her; apparently both girls are swimmers. Also, given the lessons from the first time around, the Weidauers plan some changes with this exchange.

“Yeah, we’re going to make a sign for the airport this time,” Elisha said.

“Because we even knew what Fumi looked like and she still almost got away from us,” Tim added.

Another difference is that they had more time to learn about Karolina, and already both families are corresponding through letters and emails.

As they spoke of their next guest, the Weidauers opened their package from Fumika. It was filled with desserts, chopsticks and at least eight packets of a curry mix, called “The Curry.” The family laughed and explained how Fumika would make the best curry dishes using the mix, and now they have enough to spare.

As they read her letter and enjoyed Japanese pastries, the Weidauers reflected on how they miss her, now that she’s back home again.