Exchange program looking for host families


JASPER — The experience introduced her to the enormity of the world.

About five years ago, when Robyn and Ken Cornetet welcomed three foreign exchange students from Germany during three separate stints, the insulation of Southwestern Indiana burst.

Robyn grew closest to Shannon Schw, a teenager from Pfaffenweiler, Germany, who spent the longest stretch of time at the Cornetet household. Shannon became like a daughter to Robyn. When the time came for the girl to leave, she had opened her host mother’s eyes.

“I think it’s easy to be in a small place and think it’s the whole world,” Robyn said. “And it’s just refreshing. Maybe having all of her opinions and all of her traditions made me realize that the world’s a big place. And that we always want to keep growing because there’s so much to learn.”

Sister Cities of Jasper — an arm of the Jasper German Club — is currently seeking applicants to take in four students for its 2020-21 exchange program. That program is hosted in collaboration with the American Cultural Exchange Service, a nonprofit based in Seattle.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Jasper organization’s long-running program is set to continue.

“My opinion is that it shouldn’t affect the yearlong exchange for these four kids that want to come to Jasper,” said Ross Halvorsen, the group’s local area coordinator. “Because it’s going to be their only opportunity to make it over here, because otherwise, they’re going to be out of school.”

Robyn and another former host, Lana Fierst, both remembered their time housing foreign exchange students fondly and encouraged interested readers to dive in.

“The benefits outweigh the costs,” said Lana, who hosted a student named Steffen Fidler during the 2013-14 school year. Feeding, housing and showing Steffen around did cost money, she said, but she added, “what we got in return, you can’t really put a price on it. I don’t believe you can put a price on it.”

She and her husband, Tom, brought Steffen in at the request of their son, Adam. Always interested in international travel, Adam and Steffen bonded during the German boy’s time in Indiana, and their friendship has blossomed even as the two grow older.

Adam journeyed to see Steffen in Pfaffenweiler after he returned, and Steffen’s family has extended an open invitation to the Fierst family for an overseas visit.

“It just forges a relationship that is going to be lifelong,” Lana said of the exchange program. “And it was just so enjoyable. I really enjoyed every bit of it. It’s just a great experience. I would recommend it to anybody.”

In a followup email, Halvorsen explained that visa offices in Germany are scheduled to reopen on Sept. 30. If that stands, the exchange students would probably not be able to arrive before mid-October. Halvorsen has cleared the delay with counseling at Jasper High School and wrote that it shouldn't be a problem.

Readers interested in learning more can contact Halvorsen at 415-734-8504 or A separate program, the Jasper High School Exchange Program, will not make a trip to Pfaffenweiler in 2021.

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