Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made it far harder to connect with potential families, Cathcart said. That’s because many typical avenues — such as PTA meetings, school sports events and community festivals — have been shut down for the past year.
“It’s been challenging,” Cathcart said. “This is an unusual time for everybody.”
Instead, she’s been doing some host-family prospecting online, and that’s how she found Michael and Meilii Halfmann, who moved here from Tucson, Arizona, three years ago. Both are teachers — Michael retired after 25 years, while Nancy works at John P. Fishwick Middle School.
In Tucson, back when their (now adult) son and daughter were school-age, the Halfmanns hosted six different exchange students. Although that was years ago, Michael Halfmann can still reel off the kids’ first names. He did that for me over the phone.
The Halfmanns anticipate hosting a female exchange student from Germany this upcoming fall. The couple already are creating a list of places they intend to take her — such as Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
They also intend to take her on local jaunts, such as to Mabry Mill, the most photographed spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
One of the goals of the program is cultural exchange, Cathcart said. When people from different countries get to know each other on a personal level, it reduces generalized fear, suspicion and mistrust. And that has long-term international benefits.