A match made in Minnesota: A look at the first few weeks of a high school exchange

A look at the first few weeks of the school year – from the student’s and the host family’s points of view


We love to hear from our High School Exchange students and from Host Families. We recently heard from Tania and the Berman family–a well-matched host family and student combo about the first few weeks of this school year and the celebration of their shared religious traditions.

The Bermans are originally from Canada, and learned about hosting a Jewish student through the Jewish Federation network. They Bermans are a first time host family whose children attend the French immersion school, and jumped at the chance to host a French student.  The Bermans are planning to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and share their culture with Tania, and they are excited about learning more about the French culture.

Tania is greeted by the Bermans when she arrives in Minnesota


Here’s a little bit from Tania from France and her first impressions of life in the USA:


What have the first few weeks been like? Any cultural shock moments? 

“The first week was exhausting with the jet lag but it was not difficult– on the contrary I felt comfortable. During this week I learned a lot about the family, how they organized themselves, how the oven works, the machine, everything there is to know in a house.

There were at the beginning some cultural shocks, like the fact that they eat quite early between 5:30 – 6:30–I’m always at school at this time in France)! Plus, the fact that everything is bigger, the drinks, the cereals…. But I think my biggest culture shock is the fact that I live in a “countryside”, with no stores, no supermarkets around. And if I want to go somewhere I need a car. At the beginning I was impressed by the place because there are squirrels everywhere, trees, a lake…. I got used to it very quickly!”

Tell us why you think a cultural exchange year is important?

“Doing a cultural exchange year is important because it allows you to see how people on the other side of the world live. It’s important because in life you have to know how to adapt to the world and especially to the people.

This year is a year of enrichment, seeing how Americans celebrate their holidays, talk to each other, eat…..this is part of the experience. This year it will take me out of my comfort zone, the one I had in Paris. It also allows me to meet and discover new people, these people can be friends and family for life!”

What have you enjoyed most so far?

“I think being part of an American family and not just an exchange student is what I’ve most enjoyed. And then I think it’s the school, the friends, the biggest mall in the United States!!!! (Mall of America)”

What influenced your decision to come to the USA for an exchange year?

“I think what influenced my decision to come to the United States for an exchange year was improving my English and going to an American high school, and becoming an American. And having the experience of my life that I can’t have twice.”

You share a religion with your host family, do you think you’ll see differences in how you celebrate or practice your religion?

“Of course, each person manages his religion according to his desires. So there are bound to be differences in terms of practice and celebration of holidays. For example, they don’t mix milk and meat in the plates because they have plates for milk and plates for meat, which we don’t do in Paris. Or they go to synagogue for every holiday which I don’t do except for Kippur. But it’s part of the experience so it’s not a problem. But I think that as the days go by I won’t notice the difference anymore.”

Making art


And here’s a little bit from her host mom, Adrienne:


What have the first few weeks been like for hosting? Any cultural shock moments?

“Tania arrived one week before school started. It wasn’t a lot of time to get her settled in at home, ready for school and make connections with teens her age but the adjustment feels smooth! Communication has been easy (her English is great and we speak French) and we talked up-front about expectations. Both Tania and our family are Jewish which gives us a common foundation. Tania’s biggest shocks were how early we eat dinner (6pm compared to 8/9pm in France) and the size of everything in the US (BIG)!”

Why you think cultural exchange programs are important?

“Our family believes in having open hearts and minds and valuing the differences that exist across language, nationality, religion, identity, etc. Having a hands-on experience, like this cultural exchange, is the best way to be exposed to and learn about something/someone new and create (hopefully!) a life-long connection.”

What influenced your decision to host a French student?

“We are originally from Montreal, Canada and our children attend a French Immersion school. A student from France seemed like a great way to boost the use of French language around our house and gain exposure to French culture too!”

You share a religion with your exchange student, tell us a little about the holidays celebrations you plan through the year…do you think you’ll see differences in how you celebrate or practice your religion?

“Sharing a religion has been a beautiful blessing – it’s eased Tania’s fit into our family 🙂 We’ve already talked loads about the different foods and traditions associated with upcoming holidays, discovering both similarities and differences. We’re excited to eat each other’s traditional foods! Our family and Tania follow the dietary laws (keeping “kosher”) with many of the same nuances and we are excited to share our synagogue life, starting with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) so soon. On Yom Kippur, the final day of the new year celebrations, we will host a special meal to break our fast and will also include another Jewish Greenheart exchange student, Cooper!

We already celebrated our first Shabbat (Sabbath) together and, while the tunes for the Friday night blessings may be different, the call and response nature of the prayers are the same and Tania jumped right in! We also made space for a blessing that Tania’s family traditionally does that wasn’t our custom. All in all, it feels like a beautiful fusion.


1st day of school – 12th grade and 7th grade



Thank you Tania and Adrienne for taking the time to tell us about your experience!  

To learn more about HOSTING an international exchange student, please visit HostwithGreenheart.org.

If you’d like to learn more about the Greenheart Exchange programs, please visit GreenheartExchange.org.