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  • Writer's pictureCadence Barker

Becoming a Homestay Host: An Interview with Amy Alice Chastain

In August 2022, our Executive Director, Amy Alice Chastain, opened her home to Maria, a 17-year-old girl from Estonia, not knowing that, in doing so, the two would form a lifelong, unbreakable relationship.  

Before moving to Iowa City eight years ago, Amy had spent her life overseas, living in France, China and Abu Dhabi, and traveling extensively. Missing that kind of lifestyle and the connections that it encouraged is what led her to apply to be a host parent. Especially after the isolation of the Covid pandemic, ‘it just felt like time to do something different,’ she says. ‘I thought this would be a great way to get that cultural infusion’.  

As is the case with most exchange programs, the host gets to learn about the available students and their backgrounds before choosing who they want to welcome as part of their family. Amy knew she wanted to host a student from a region of the world she had less familiarity with so that the exchange between her and the student would be done on equal grounds. In her eyes, an exchange should entail both parties learning from each other, which was one of the reasons why Maria was at the top of her list. ‘And to be honest,’ she adds, ‘I just felt really strongly like she was the one that was supposed to be a part of my home.’ 

While not concerned about meeting Maria, Amy had expected there to be an adjustment period, especially as someone who was living in a single-person household. However, she couldn’t have been more wrong. ‘Both of us felt like she was just at home from the time she got there,’ she recounts. Amy and Maria instantly were a part of each other’s family. On Mother’s Day, Maria gave Amy a bracelet she had made that said ‘Family’ in Estonian on the outside and ‘Your favorite daughter’ on the inside. Amy remembers that they stood in the kitchen that morning together and cried. While Maria wouldn’t leave until June, the tears had already begun to fall in November. One year ends up being far too short, and Amy plans to visit Estonia within the next year. ‘She’s my daughter forever,’ she says.  

On the responsibilities of a host parent, Amy emphasizes that hosting an exchange student means signing up to make them a part of your family. Anyone can be a homestay host, whether they are child-free or have kids already in the house, and there are benefits brought by each situation. A host family is responsible for bringing an exchange student to sports practices and other activities they are interested in, which is why Amy suggests choosing someone whose interests overlap with your family’s.  

Why should you sign up as a homestay host? In Amy's words, ‘It’s life-changing’. Being a host means becoming a part of the lives of our next generation of world leaders, the kind of people who are brave enough to immerse themselves in a new country, culture, and language.  

As Local Coordinator, Amy supports host families and their exchange students every step of the way, providing orientation, check-ins and activities to promote a smoother cultural exchange. She is uniquely positioned to aid any prospective hosts, prepared by her education in intercultural communication, work at Global Ties Iowa, travel abroad experiences, and her own time as a host mother.  

Amy’s advice for anyone still hesitating: ‘Just do it. If you’re thinking about it at all, just do it.’  

Find out more about the FLEX, YES and UUTI exchange programs by clicking on the following link! BECOME A HOMESTAY HOST | Global Ties Iowa 


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