By U.S. ArmyJanuary 15, 2015
Just because you're a military Family living stateside, doesn't mean that you don't have a chance to experience a culture different than your own.
The Martinez Family decided to give their four children a chance to experience a different culture by hosting a 17-year-old from Finland.
"We wanted to host a student for the experience," said Amber Martinez, the host mom and Army wife. "Growing up, hosting exchange students was just a normal thing to do in my high school, so when the opportunity presented itself we jumped on it."
Families, both civilian and military alike, have the option to host students from different countries for either a year or five months.
Niina Nukarinen came to America about five months ago with the hope that she might be able to experience the life of an American high school student and have a chance to practice speaking English, which she has been studying since third grade.
"I wanted to be an exchange student because I have never traveled anywhere. My friend did this program last year, and she made it sound really exciting," Nukarinen said.
When Nukarinen was told she would be staying with a military family on Fort Leonard Wood, she wasn't sure what to expect when it came to the housing.
"My first reaction when I heard I was going to live on an American military base was that I would be living in tents, you know, 'Full Metal Jacket' style, and I'm kind of relieved," she laughed.
Nukarinen hopes to enter the Finnish military upon her graduation from high school.
"In Finland the guys have to serve in the military at some point, but the girls can choose, and since that is what I want to do, it's been awesome to be around the American military," she said.
In Finland, Nukarinen is the youngest of three and with her host Family, she is the oldest of five.
"Back home there is mom, dad, two big brothers and a dog. Now with my host Family I have three little siblings, and one who is just 15 days younger than me, so now I'm the biggest one," Nukarinen said. "The first couple of weeks, I was a little lost as to how to be a big sister, but I love it."
Not only is the Family dynamic completely different for Nukarinen, but so is the education side.
"I wanted to see if school in America is like it is in the movies, and it is actually pretty similar," she said. "I get to take mythology this semester, which is cool because we don't have that as a class in Finland."
Nukarinen said that in Finland, high school is only three years, so she is a junior here and when she goes back home, she will still be a junior and have two more years of school.
For the Martinez's 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, her favorite part is having an older sister.
"We are 15 days apart and its been nice to have a sister, because I've always been the oldest and I've always wanted to have a sister my age. Now I have a sister and a best friend," she said.
Staff Sgt. Ariel Martinez, Company Bravo 43rd Adjutant General Battalion, and host dad, encourages every Family to host a students.
"I've actually been stationed overseas, and have had the chance to experience other cultures, so it's been fun to watch my Family get to learn about different cultures.
For more information on hosting a foreign exchange student, contact Joe Lanham, local representative for Nacel Open Door at email@example.com or www.nacelopendoor.org.