Alex Hayes and His Family Hosts Foreign Exchange Students


Credit to Pavan Kolluru

International exchange student Borjan Georgievski stands with Senior Alex Hayes on homecoming night. The Hayes family have been taking in exchange students for years, most recent being Jorge Perez in the 2019-20 school year. Borjan is the current exchange students living with them, coming from North Macedonia.

By Aadhi Sathiskumar

Foreign exchange programs require much planning and organization in order to provide students a positive experience in the United States. An important part of the program, and one that is rarely mentioned, is the host families. One of these host families, the Hayes, have hosted four students over the last five years at FHN.

“We’ve had four students total,” senior Alex Hayes said. “One from Germany, Italy, Spain and Macedonia.”

Hayes says that though he was interested in the program, his mother was the driving force in the family behind deciding to host. Annalee Menz, Hayes’ Mother, has a keen interest in foreign cultures and hopes to expose her family to other cultures.

“I love to travel, I love to learn about different cultures and I kinda wanted to give that to my son,” Menz said. “I wanted to open up and expand his world, and also give back to society globally and help a student study here in the United States.”

The organization behind their foreign exchange is Youths for Understanding, or YFU. YFU helps students with getting in the U.S. and interviews students and host families to make sure they are well accommodated. All of the students the Hayes family has hosted come from YFU.

The requirements for having a foreign exchange student are pretty straightforward. Families should be able to feed students, financially support them and provide commodities, like bathrooms. The Hayes family goes above these requirements by taking students with them on trips across the country and on fun outings. Even more, the Hayes family has even visited their exchange students in Europe.

“It’s very easy to keep in contact,” Menz said. “I got to go to Germany and saw our German exchange student and met his parents. This summer, Alexander went and stayed a month with our Spanish exchange student.”

After spending the majority of their time with a previously unknown teenager from across the world, having a new person in the house has become normal. As students have come and gone, it has gotten easier to continue life as normal.

“It’s not really been difficult [adjusting to a new person in the house]” Hayes said. “I’ve had another person in my house for four years, so it’s not that different to me.”

Since all of their students have come from European nations, the cultural barrier while still present has not been too challenging to overcome. For the Hayes family, the differences in culture are usually small, but for their students, American life is much different to them.

“Generally, I would say their cultures aren’t that much different,” Hayes said. “[Exchange students] are learning a bunch of new stuff about America, and they always have a bunch of questions about us.”

Having had four students at their house, the Hayes family has made unique lifelong connections most people may never have. For Menz, these students almost feel like her own family.

“It will change your life in a great way,” Menz said. “Sometimes it’s tough, just like with any family. But I’ve gained four more son’s from it. It’s been a great experience for our family.”