Warren County residents Paul and Bridgette LaJoye and their five children have hosted international students in their home each summer for the past four years.
The first year, the LaJoyes hosted one International student. This year, they are hosting 12 guests over the course of the summer.
Generally, the boys purchase their plane tickets and bring money to cover some of the activities while they are here. However, the LaJoyes cover the cost of food, boarding, transportation and other expenses. Friends, family, church members and those involved in 4H have donated odds and ends to the family, such as cookware, paper goods and mattresses/bedding.
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Some organizations have also provided tickets to area attractions, like Kings Island or to a Red’s Game. This year, they received eight bikes. If anyone would like to make a donation or have tickets or other items they would like to offer the family, they can be reached at email@example.com.
We spoke with Bridgette LaJoye, and she filled us in on a few of their experiences. She said the family is excited about having 12 guests this year. The first guest, Gregoire Rame, will be arriving in about a week.
Q: How did this endeavor get started?
A: We have an interesting life. This started off as us getting one exchange student to this year we are getting 12. It’s turned into a European summer camp, or something. I don’t know quite what happened, but I have a husband that doesn’t say no. He says the more the merrier. He’s from a family of 14, so he’s used to having a lot of people around. So, every time I get an email from another family, I call him if he’s at work, and he always says, “sure.”
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: We have five kids. Our oldest daughter, Julianne Krol, 24, is married and she and her husband, Alex, have a baby girl, Therese. We live on Ohio State Route 741. Even though our address says Franklin, we are in Lebanon City Schools and we have a Lebanon phone number, so we always say we’re from Lebanon. Our next daughter, Adriana, 20, goes to Sinclair Community College, and she’s majoring in accounting. Our son, Paul Jr., 17, is in high school, our next daughter, Christine is in 8th grade, and our youngest, Joey, 12, is in the sixth grade.
Q: How have you seen your efforts grow?
A: This is our fifth summer hosting the students. For the last four years, my husband and I, and our children, have hosted European boys/young adults in our home during the summer. Initially, it was only going to be one boy per year, but it has turned into much more. The first year, we had one boy from France. The second year, we had that same boy come back again, along with another boy. This summer, we are hosting 12 youth. The boys will be arriving and departing at different times, so there will be some overlap. At one point, there will be eight boys in our home at the same time.
The boys are 16 to 23 years of age. We have hosted guests from France, England, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium. This year, we are hosting a boy from Italy. Each boy stays for a month or so, and a few of them stay longer…One boy, Thibault Villepelet, from France will be here for his fifth consecutive year, and three of the boys are returning for the second time.
Q: A few of your children are close in age to some of the exchange students, how does that work out as far as them getting along?
A: That helps a lot, because they have a lot of the same interests. Especially, with Paul Jr., who is 17. A lot of the Europeans are his age. Most of them are ages 16, 17 and 18. A few of the returning guests are 19, and this year, we have a 23-year-old coming from Italy. He’s the oldest one we’ve hosted. He’s just finishing college, and before he starts his job, he wants to take a month off and come to America. They also fit in with my daughters, who are also close in age. One of the things they like to do is play board games, Uno and Monopoly. We have a pool table, ping pong table and a foosball table, so there’s something that everyone can do. Even if they don’t know how to speak English (well), they know how to play foosball. My son-in-law played Rugby in high school, and a lot of our guests love to play Rugby.
Q: Is there a program that you’re a part of, or how did this all come together?
A: It was not part of an (organized) program. I got an E-mail forwarded to me in 2014, and it was from a friend of mine. She said, “This sounds like it’s right up your alley.” So, I read it. I was about a family in France, who wanted to send their 16-year-old son to the United States, so he could become immersed in American culture and perfect his English. It’s important for Europeans to know English well, because it’s the universal business language. So, they want to become very fluent, and they want to be able to use it in everyday conversations, because it will help them later in life.
Once, they leave, they are quite fluent. We don’t know enough French, so it’s sink or swim. They have to learn it to be able to communicate. The E-mail had been forwarded about ten times. So, I got back to the original person who sent it. She and her husband are French, and she and her husband come to the United States Every few years, because he is a French diplomat. These were friends of hers, and by the time we got a hold of them, they had made other arrangements. So, I told them, if they know of anyone else, we are more than willing to host them with us. That’s how we got our first one, and he’s the one who is coming for his fifth year. It was primarily by word of mouth. They go back to Europe, tell their friends and families, and their friends and relatives call us. Each year, we get more people who are interested in coming.
Q: Do you do anything special to teach them English, or do they learn it in their everyday life experiences?
A: It’s the everyday life experiences. Their parents have always emailed me and asked that they do chores while they are here. They don’t want them treated like kings. Some of them wash dishes. But, it’s just in everyday life that they pick up on it. When we go to different activities, they also have opportunities to learn and experience new things.
Q: What have you and your family gained from the experience?
A: There’s a lot we get out of it. We learn not only about their culture, we learn more about ours, such as different things we take for granted that we think everybody has. There’s a lot more freedom over here with little, silly things. For instance, everywhere they go in Europe, they have to pay to park, even at the grocery store. So, I can go to Aldi’s four or five times a week if I want to. They would have to pay parking four or five times a week. One of the things we have here that they don’t have in Europe is a drive-thru bank…We have lots of stories about things like that.
Q: Do you keep in touch with the boys and their families after they leave?
A: Yes. We keep in touch, regularly. After they go back home to Europe, we keep in contact via email, Skype, Instagram, Snap Chat and on social media. We have not only grown to love the boys, and welcomed them as part of our family, we have also become good friends with their parents.