One thing that every exchange student is looking forward to is the day their host families visit Armenia. Visits from host families are becoming more common which makes the ties between Armenian and American families even stronger. Sona Sargsyan ’16 did not have to wait long for this exciting experience. Her host parents Sean and Dorie from Illinois crossed the Atlantic to meet Sona, but this time in Armenia. Whether you are a student who wants to apply for FLEX or a family who wants to host, we hope this insight from Sona’s family will be helpful.
Why did you decide to host a FLEX student?
“Close friends of our family had an amazing experience hosting the year prior. I was impressed with what an impact the young lady had on the host family, her school, and the community. I view living in the United States as a blessing – it’s simply an amazing place to live! I wanted to share that experience, and share the very best of what it means to be an American. It is also an important life lesson we wanted to impart on our own children. We wanted our kids to gain an understanding of other cultures-a more global perspective.”
What motivated you?
“Inviting someone into your family to be PART of your family is a big deal – I was motivated that our entire family was fully supportive and excited about the opportunity.”
How did you decide to host Sona?
“We carefully read all the narratives that each FLEX student writes. It was a really great way to find an ideal fit for our family. I assumed it would take us all night to agree upon a student – but was stunned when everyone picked Sona as our first choice. The written essays are critical as they allow students to discuss who they are, what they enjoy, and what they want out of this experience. It was easy to see Sona as a part of our family.”
What are some of the highlights from your experience hosting Sona?
“We did two things that sort of seem like polar opposites – we tried to make Sona’s stay with us as routine and “normal” as possible. Her year with us was just like any other year in our home. At the same time, we tried to experience as much as we could while here. We intentionally visited parks, museums, shows, games – we wanted to show her the amazing opportunities the US has to offer. We loved experiencing the US through her eyes, as well!”
How did the experience impact you, your family and/or community?
“I underestimated how deeply Sona would impact our family. When she first arrived, I think a few people were surprised that she wanted to call us Mom & Dad – but it seemed perfectly natural to us. It wasn’t long before we viewed Sona exactly like our own children. It’s hard to put into words, but we wanted the very same for her as we did for our own two kids. We experienced the same joy in her success, and felt the same pain if she failed. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel her absence. I guess the biggest surprise was how deeply she would impact our family. Likewise, I underestimated the hurt when she left. Our bonds are strong enough that they will last a lifetime. I have no doubt our lives will be linked forever!”
How did you decide to visit Sona in Armenia? What are some of the highlights from your time in Armenia?
“First, we missed her immensely! One of the best aspects of our exchange experience was her sharing Armenia with us. The food, the traditions – we loved everything she offered us, too! I don’t think Armenia would have ever been on our list of “must see” nations – but I cannot imagine why….it’s an amazing country with amazing people and a rich history. The best part of our visit was connecting with Sona’s family. It was so special for us to meet Sona’s parents and siblings, and they welcomed us into their home like family! We had family functions almost every day and loved meeting her extended family as well and spending time in her hometown. One evening, we her entire family came over for Russian tea and desserts and it struck me how impactful this one exchange was – it touched the lives of literally dozens of people. Dozens in Armenia, dozens in the USA. All are better because of the experience.”
Anything else you’d like to share with FLEX students and their families in Armenia and the U.S.?
“I love that most FLEXers go to “real” America – not the USA one sees on TV…not New York City, Los Angeles or Miami. The students discover that life in the USA is not so different from their own and both host and student can learn so much from each other! My advice to FLEXers is to really connect with people. Take advantage of as many extracurricular activities as possible. Be active in clubs, church, sports – just be around people! Next, share Armenia with Americans. We posted lots of pics of our trip and have never received so many questions from friends and family – people are intrigued by Armenia and all it has to offer. My advice for the FLEXer’s family (parents): your host family is going to love and cherish your child like their own! I know that may be hard to imagine, but your child will have an amazing experience that will change their lives (and everyone around them) forever!”