Seth Coley hadn’t planned to host a Chinese exchange student nearly two years ago.
But when a student needed a place to stay at the last minute, Apex High School Principal Matthew Wight asked Coley, now a rising senior, and his parents to become a host family.
Coley was nervous as he drove to the high school to pick up Jack, the Americanized name for the exchange student.
“I was like, ‘Mom what do I say?’ ” he recalled. “ ‘What do I talk about?’ ”
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But Coley’s fears dissipated when he met Jack, and it was friendship at first sight.
Coley and his family, including his younger brother, enjoyed hosting an exchange student so much that they volunteered again through Global Classroom Alliance. The nonprofit aims to further educational ties between American and Chinese students and teachers through exchange programs.
Apex High has been hosting students through the program since 2013.
In January, the Coleys will welcome their third exchange student.
“It’s been a real gift from God,” said Kim Coley, Seth’s mother. “We fell in love with the students. They became a part of our family.
“You can call three years from now and we’ll still be doing the same thing,” she continued.
Seth Coley said the language barrier is one of the biggest challenges of being a host family, but the Coleys have found ways to make do.
“I have an iPad, so I would use Google Translate a lot,” Seth Coley said. “There were also lots of hand signals involved.”
Sometimes it was hard for the exchange students to settle in as they adjusted to new customs.
“Getting them to open up at first is really hard,” Seth Coley said. “But when they realize you have opened up your home for them, they start to get more comfortable.”
The exchange students typically stay at Apex High School for a week in January. They get the opportunity to attend classes and explore colleges and landmarks in their free time.
Kim Coley said it can be a challenge for host families to pay for another teenager in the house.
“Financially, it can be overwhelming,” Kim Coley said. “Having multiple kids can mean having more costs.”
Seth has an idea to ease the financial burden. He has been reaching out to local theaters, restaurants and amusement parks to ask for donations for exchange students looking to experience a new country.
“I want to be able to show them what American teenage culture is like,” Seth Coley said.
So far, he’s heard back from five of the 11 businesses he has contacted.
Seth Coley said he would welcome the opportunity to study abroad, and that he has been asked to visit China numerous times.
He’s a diver on the school’s swim team, and his busy schedule hasn’t allowed the trip to happen. He has been training with the National Junior Olympics team for the past eight months, and he hopes he can continue the sport in college next year.
That won’t deter him from focusing on his exchange students next year, though. He plans on making their trip across the world worthwhile.
“I try to make the week as (good) for them as possible,” Seth Coley said. “I want them to experience everything I’ve gotten to experience living here.”