The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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May 21, 2024

Uniting the Young: Whitman teacher opens his home to foreign exchange students

Thomas Young
When Laura Van Der Pasch first met the Youngs, she immediately felt part of their family. She recalled how happy Young was and how welcoming and open his family was to a new member of their household.

Traveling from a distant foreign country, a young student overflows with excitement and anxiety as they board a flight that will alter their life forever. The destination: America.

Butterflies soar through their stomach as they glance wistfully out the window and watch as their hometown gradually shrinks. As they finally arrive in D.C., they are greeted by the welcoming smiles of the Young family. 

Thomas Young — an Honors & AP Modern World History teacher at Whitman — and his family hosted their first foreign exchange student in 2010, hosting at least one student yearly. Over the past decade, the family has hosted 18 students. 

For Young, a home without a foreign exchange student is unusual. Young’s house is constantly bustling with energy from his six kids and foreign exchange students, and that’s the way he enjoys it, he said. 

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When Young first introduced the idea of hosting a foreign exchange student, his family was open to the prospect, but, like many other families, they were still nervous about the actual arrival of the student. 

“Initially, you get the same anxiety of ‘how’s this gonna work?’” Young said. “And as you start to get to know the student, you’re actually really sad that they have to leave so soon.”

The first time the Young family hosted, the student only stayed with them for the summer. However, the success of the initial venture inspired them to host for longer periods. They began welcoming foreign exchange students for a semester and then later for a year. During the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, they hosted two students simultaneously for year-long stays. Foreign exchange students have become an integral part of the Young family, and the house feels emptier without their presence, Young said. 

After 18 students, the Young family has adopted traditions for when an exchange student arrives in D.C. The first thing they do is visit the monuments with the newest member of the family. For DMV locals, it’s nothing new, but for the students, it’s magical to experience things they’ve only seen in movies, Young said.  

“Every student comes with the fresh eyes and excitement of having seen it for the first time,” Young said, “and that gives me the new energy to always take in the different sights.”

Laura Van Der Pasch, a foreign exchange student who stayed with the Youngs for a spring semester, had always wanted to visit the U.S. She was enthralled with American music and film at home in the Netherlands, and was excited to experience American culture. When she went to her school Prom, she couldn’t believe how similar it was to the movies. 

“I felt like the main character in a movie that you’re watching, except now you’re living it,” Van Der Pasch said. 

When she first met the Youngs, she immediately felt part of their family. She recalled how happy Young was and how welcoming and open his family was to a new member of their household. It was an important endeavor for her, not just because of the change of setting but also because of the differences between the Youngs and her own family, Van Der Pasch said.

Unlike her family, the Youngs are extremely close to their extended family. During her stay, she visited the beach in North Carolina with them and enjoyed spending quality time with their relatives. She felt constantly welcomed by the family as the Youngs introduced her to neighbors and brought her along to simple daily activities, she said. 

“Going to Costco was very funny,” Van Der Pasch said. “I think the only thing comparable to that, was the IKEA warehouse where you get your furniture. Going to stuff like that would just make my day.”

Hosting foreign exchange students also broadened Young’s worldview, he said. Young loves learning about the students’ different cultures and ways of life. His eldest son, Joe Young, found that hosting foreign exchange students was an eye-opening experience. 

“It makes the world feel smaller, having friends in different countries,” Joe Young said. “If I ever want to go to Europe, I will have lots of people I can stay with and lots of people I know.” 

Along with hosting foreign exchange students, Thomas Young immerses himself in other cultures through travel. He believes traveling introduces people to alternative ways of life. He has traveled to over 20 countries and all 50 states of the United States, but his favorite places to travel are the ones where his foreign exchange students come from, like Spain, where he spent this previous summer.

“When I go visit my students, that’s amazing,” Young said. “There’s nothing like arriving in a foreign location and having people who you know and love and are so happy to see you and treat you so nicely. I travel there not only because it’s a beautiful place [but also] because it’s full of people I care about.”

Young’s time with his exchange students left him and them with amazing memories. Van Der Pasch can still recall the amazing times she had while celebrating birthdays with the Young family. The family’s tradition was to eat dinner at Villa Maya, a Mexican restaurant in Rockville where the servers gave a sombrero to the person celebrating their birthday. She still remembers experiencing the immense love and happiness of everyone in the family in those moments. 

“I was so scared before going on exchange, but I’d say in a way it did end up changing my life forever, but really for the better,” Van Der Pasch said. “To this day, I continue to benefit from it; it was such an enriching experience and I’ve never heard anyone that has done an experience like this and regretted it.”

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About the Contributor
Laura Gine Vega
Laura Gine Vega, Feature Writer
Grade 11 Why did you join The B&W? I joined the Black and White to connect myself and others to the community and inform people about relevant current events. What is your favorite song? Beauty and a Beat by Justin Bieber

Comments (4)

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  • J

    javier VegaOct 19, 2023 at 8:11 pm

    You really succeeded in providing an all encompassing view of the issue from all parties. A real pleasure reading your contributions.

  • R

    Rosa MartinOct 19, 2023 at 6:18 pm

    A perfect win-win situation. It benefits the host, the surest, and even the reporter of this piece.

  • P

    Patricia YoungOct 19, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have also benefited from the exchange students. Knowing each of them developed friendships I treasure.
    Patricia Young( Tom’s mom)

  • C

    Clara VegaOct 17, 2023 at 10:57 am

    Great article. Love the vivid emotions you describe like feeling “butterflies in the stomach”