- Associated Press - Sunday, April 30, 2017

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - John and Robyn Dvoracek have a heritage mix of “a little bit of everything.” Like their heritage, they have children from many different countries.

The Dvoraceks have had German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Austrian and South Korean children. How? They’ve hosted foreign exchange students for about 10 years.

Those students, who typically stay with the family from August through May for the school year, often become part of the Dvoracek family.

Robyn said the family thought about hosting students a while ago but told the woman who sets it up that they wanted to wait another year.

“Then she called me the next year and said, ‘Well, you said you’d do it,’” Robyn said.

Robyn said her family is actually the third generation to bring in other people to their family. She said John’s grandparents helped raise a niece after the mom died when the girl was born. John’s parents also raised a sister after her parents died.

“We just went a different direction and took exchange students instead,” Robyn said.

She said she and her husband wanted to host students for the sake of their three daughters: Michelle, Amanda and Kristine.

“I just thought it would be interesting for the girls to learn about different cultures,” Robyn said. “It’d be an education that we could bring here without traveling.”

The parents have done just that, but they’ve also helped give their daughters more siblings and friends. The kids all attend Elba Public Schools, which Robyn said gives them more opportunities to be involved rather than going to a bigger school.

Amanda, 21, gets along well with Danish exchange student Ida Heuser, who is 20. Although she’s the family’s former exchange student, Ida came back to visit the family for a few weeks. Amanda said she and Ida really connected fast. They even would wear similar outfits and eventually had to plan what to wear in advance so they didn’t wear the same thing.

When Ida recently came to visit, it was a surprise for Amanda. But when Amanda came home from Hastings College, Robyn and John said, Amanda had a sense that Ida would come for a surprise visit. It’s like the two were destined to be sisters, even though they’re from different cultures and countries.

Andreas Vang, 16, from Denmark, is the Dvoraceks’ current exchange student. In a house full of women, besides John, Andreas said he misses his brother more in Denmark. Andreas said he enjoys staying with the Dvoraceks and that he’s learned how to speak English better since arriving in August.

Ida said living with the Dvoraceks and being an exchange students pushed her boundaries.

“I learned to be more open,” Ida said, since she had to adjust to moving to a new country and having a new family.

Kristine, 17, said having siblings from other countries helped her to be more understanding of different cultures.

“If we didn’t have foreign exchange students, I’d be an only child with mom and dad. That sounds awful,” Kristine joked.

Andreas’ favorite thing about American food is how Americans put cheese on everything, he said.

When Ida first left the United States, she longed for ranch dressing.

Having a child with a different culture can be an interesting dynamic at first. Robyn said she has to remember to teach the exchange students simple things that we may take for granted, such as how to turn the shower on or when curfew is.

“They say to treat the foreign exchange students the same as you do your own kids,” Robyn said, “and they are like our kids.”

“They’re family,” John said.

John said some of the exchange students they’ve had didn’t have picture-perfect home lives and were dealing with different situations. Especially in those times, John said, he and Robyn were able to be parents to the kids who may have felt like they didn’t have their own parents.

John said he bonded with one girl in particular who didn’t have much of a father figure in her life.

The couple visited most of their exchange children and their families abroad in 2015, The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/2pmVDBk ) reported. John said they keep in contact with each student regularly, at least once a month.

Robyn said the exchange students are not only family, but their families are part of the family. Some of the kids’ siblings are just as close to the family as the exchange students.

“Having an exchange student, you see that the people from there aren’t any different than the people from here,” John said. Although the students come from different countries, they have similar goals and needs. “They may be in different situations, but they’re just like us.”


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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