Photo of fourteen students from the University of Teacher Education - Fukuoka who traveled to UW-La Crosse to learn about the U.S. education system.

Fourteen students from the University of Teacher Education – Fukuoka traveled to UW-La Crosse to learn about the U.S. education system.

Each year, approximately 14 students from the University of Teacher Education—Fukuoka (UTEF) in Fukuoka, Japan, travel to UW-La Crosse to immerse themselves in the U.S. education system.

When not engaged in activities or visiting K-12 schools, these students live and spend time with host families, a tradition embraced by multiple UWL faculty and staff who volunteer to open their homes.

“We have hosted since 2017, when the UTEF program began to incorporate a two-week homestay as part of their visiting program,” explain Rob and Colleen Dixon. Rob is an associate professor of psychology, and Colleen is an office/testing coordinator in the ACCESS Center.

For Kristin and Aaron Koepke, this year’s visit marks their second time hosting a student from UTEF. Kristin is the director of the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning, while Aaron serves as a professor in the Marketing department. Both couples are members of the La Crosse Friends of International Students (LFIS) program.

Photo of the Koepke family, who served as a host family for UTEF student, Ai.

The Koepke family served as a host family for UTEF student, Ai.

“We previously and currently participate in the La Crosse Friends of International Students (LFIS) Friendship Family program, being paired with UWL international students,” the Koepkes say. “We find the UTEF program particularly wonderful. Not only is the program well organized, but the students are also kind, engaging and interesting young adults.”

The LFIS program offers members the opportunity to either act as a “friendship family,” engaging in dinners and activities with international students, or as a host family, providing lodging while the student is visiting.

Both the Dixons and Koepkes highly recommend hosting students, especially those from UTEF.

“The UWL/Japanese UTEF program is fun because the students are young adults but still have the curiosity to try new things,” the Dixons say. “They are busy with their own school schedule during the day but are ready for family time and activities in the evening and on the weekends.”

The Koepkes agree, saying, “Students are open to sharing their cultures and traditions with us, allowing for great conversations and exchanges. Since they are students studying education, they have also been engaged with our kids (currently 11 and 13), making the acclimation to living in our home quite smooth.”

The UTEF students say their favorite part of the trip was their experience with host families. Activities included attending a local Polar Plunge event, celebrating host family birthdays and trying new foods, resulting in UTEF students’ newfound love for cheese curds.

Although the trip isn’t primarily focused on language acquisition, students exhibit a strong desire to learn English and engage with their host families.

“Their excitement and interest in learning new things is what keeps us hosting each spring,” the Dixons say. “It’s great to take communication on as a challenge. Have fun with it, be silly, act it out, exaggerate, draw a picture or Google it — do whatever it takes to communicate and make that connection. The students love learning new words and phrases, and they enjoy teaching us some of their language as well.”

Following the hosting experience, the Koepkes hope students depart with the realization that kind people exist worldwide. Similarly, the Dixons aspire for students to leave with cherished memories of La Crosse and a newfound sense of family, alongside elevated confidence and curiosity for trying new things.

“We hope they take home with them a sense of family, be it through the activities that we participate in, the games we play or the meals we eat together,” the Dixons say. “Hopefully they leave with lots of photos and great memories of their time in the La Crosse area and with our family.”

To apply to become a “friendship family,” or to learn more about hosting opportunities, visit the UWL International Education & Engagement webpage.

Written by UW-La Crosse

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