Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange

Participant Story

New Jersey Host Mother’s Sons "Enriched" by Exchange Students


Claire (right) and FLEX student Anna pose together in front of the Sedona Red Rock Mountains. Photo courtesy of Claire Mattern. Claire (right) and FLEX student Anna pose in front of the Sedona Red Rock Mountains. Photo courtesy of Claire Mattern.
Claire Mattern was unaware at the time that a newspaper advertisement calling for host families would change the course of her life, but ten years later she is still hosting international exchange students.

“I had young kids at the time, and I thought it would be nice for them to spend time with people from different countries,” said Claire. “And I’ve always been into different cultures and languages as well.”

Claire’s first exchange student was Tijana, an A-SMYLE student from Serbia.

“She arrived shortly after 9/11 and I must admit, I was nervous,” said Claire. “But she was great, it was a wonderful experience.”

Mattern said overcoming prejudices that foreigners have about Americans and vice versa is her favorite part of hosting exchange students. She has been surprised to learn what people from other countries think about America and Americans, and works to help her students leave with an informed opinion on the United States.

“It’s eye-opening to see how insular Americans seem compared to people in other countries,” said Claire. “We’re very into ourselves and don’t know about global events.”

Mattern’s two sons have grown up with exchange students in the house – her youngest son was two-years-old when their first student came and he is now 11. She believes their lives have been enriched by this constant global exposure.

She keeps in touch with all of the students she has hosted, and loves seeing and hearing about the impact she has had on their lives.

She remembers a trip she took with Tijana down the California coast, when the family saw a whale in the Pacific Ocean. Tijana began to cry, explaining that she never dreamt that she would see something like that in her life.

“That was a really powerful experience for me,” said Claire. “It meant a lot to be able to do something so simple that actually changes a person’s life.”

“Once I talked to Tijana at the end of her stay about her experiences here, I knew there was no going back, I had to keep hosting.”

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