What Julian Hoss knew about West Virginia before coming here as an exchange student can be summed up in two words, “Country Roads.”
“That’s all I really had ever heard about this state,” Hoss said. “I did know the governor’s name and the state capitol. But I came here with no real idea what to expect.”
Hoss, who lives in western Germany, said his father encouraged him to sign up with the International Cultural Exchange Service (ICES) which matches students with families.
“I had never really tried anything so different from my daily life,” he said. “Others in the program said I’d end up making new friends and gain a second family.”
Tyler and Marie McCauley filled that role for the 15-year-old exchange student who celebrated his 16th birthday in November.
“I had wanted to host an exchange student for a long time,” Marie McCauley said. “Finding the right time and right person was tough. We have two sons, Ian and Mick, that we wanted to be part of the process as well.”
It never dawned on the McCauleys or their exchange student that the right time would be during a health pandemic.
Hoss signed up with the program in February 2020 before the health crisis had become prevalent in the United States. Due to emerging circumstances, there was a long wait period.
“We had to have the agreement of our local school system,” McCauley said. “Normally that wouldn’t be a big issue but with the COVID-19 situation, it was. Thankfully, Ripley High School agreed. There were only five high schools in the whole state who accepted exchange students this year.”
That lack of participation was what drew this host family to get involved.
“We saw a Facebook post that ICES was needing families and not many were willing,” McCauley recalled. “Our boys were the right age we thought. We also figured that since our family does everything outside anyway, we’d all be pretty safe.”
When they saw that Hoss loved soccer, music and traveling, their interest was piqued. One other aspect stood out as the family decided.
“He had a quirky personality,” McCauley said with a laugh. “I have a quirky personality too, so it sounded like a match. As we talked to him and got to know him a little better through video chats, we also said he sounded a lot like our son Ian. It wasn’t a hard decision ultimately.”
Arriving in the United States, Hoss had to quarantine for two weeks. The hardest part of that was having to wait to play high school soccer, a sport in which he excels.
“Soccer is my only sport,” Hoss said. “I had to miss 14 practices which made me have to wait longer to play.”
Playing a sport helped the young exchange student adapt a little easier, but there were still some major differences in high school life in West Virginia vs. Germany.
“In Germany, we are very focused, and school is just for education,” he said. “There is no real socialization, no outside activities. Running from class to class here is a little stressful, but all in all the classes are much easier here. In the beginning, I did have some difficulty with English.”
One change that was a bigger adjustment for Hoss was transportation. In Germany, he rode his bike everywhere.
“I never had to rely on my parents to get me places,” he said. “Now I’m always needing a ride.”
While soccer is his main passion, the student athlete did try his hand at other sports as well. He found that wrestling was not his favorite, but he did enjoy track. Being with an active family has led him to many adventures as well.
“The first place we took him was the New River Gorge,” said McCauley. “Of course, we had to go to North Myrtle Beach. That’s a West Virginia thing.”
One of the highlights of his stay, and a place he and the McCauley family felt was essential to visit, was Washington, D.C.
“I got to see so much, including the White House,” Hoss said. “That meant a lot to go there.”
His first-time skiing was with the McCauleys at Winterplace. They also introduced him to kayaking, snowboarding, snowtubing and a monster truck event. The family has expanded his food experiences as well.
“He loves pepperoni rolls, macaroni and cheese and Taco Bell,” McCauley said with a smile. “But he’s shared German food with us as well and we love it.”
Bonding with his new family has been an important part of the exchange student’s life. Having ‘two brothers’ has been different, said Hoss.
“It’s been really good though,” he said. “They treat me like one of the family. I learned to kick an American football with Tyler and their dog, Darla, keeps eating all my food. It’s just family.”
Hoss will miss his new family as he travels back to Germany in mid-June. He will also miss much about the school he is leaving.
“I’ve made good friends,” he said. “There is such a school spirit here that we don’t have in Germany. I’ve gone to my first school dance and prom. Back home, we have 1,000 kids at school, but everyone stays completely with their class. Here, everybody knows me.”
Hoss said that while there are restrictions in this country with COVID-19, it is much more so in Germany. Students get tested every day. Having received the vaccination, he is hoping that he won’t have to quarantine once arriving in his home country.
Once home, Hoss said the first thing he’ll do, after reuniting with family and friends, is go to a German bakery and get some bread rolls. McCauley said she tried to make him some but ‘failed miserably.’
As for his family, he’s sure they missed him, but said “My little sister already moved into my room.”
To describe his experiences in West Virginia and with the McCauley family, Hoss put things very simply.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he said. “I’m just sorry I’m going to miss the 4th of July in Ripley, but I hope I can talk my parents into letting me come back for a visit in the future. No matter what, I will keep a connection to my West Virginia family.”