Hosts needed for Seymour High School foreign exchange students


Pablo Jiménez of Spain spent the 2017-18 school year with the Zumhingst family in Seymour.

During the recently completed 2021-22 school year, they had the unique opportunity to serve as host family for his younger sister, Irene Jiménez.

Dave and Kendra and their children, Jadrix and Krenzley, couldn’t have asked for a better experience with the siblings. Irene was the fifth foreign exchange student they have hosted since 2013.

“Pablo was my favorite. He was appreciative of the experience, very family-oriented, did his homework, cleaned up his room and he was just a good kid. They all teach me something different about myself, about my parenting style, good, bad or ugly,” Kendra said. “Then Irene came along, she was like all of the best of Pablo. She has been phenomenal. She’s just an all-around good kid.”

Irene, who turns 18 soon, said going into the experience, she was nervous, so she asked her brother a lot of questions about Seymour and the Zumhingst family.

“He was like, ‘Irene, stop. Just live it. You’ll have fun,’” she said. “That’s what he told me, ‘You’ll have your own experience.’”

She wanted to get a taste of the American dream, and the Zumhingsts definitely provided that, giving her the opportunity to experience new things and visit new places.

“He said, ‘They are crazy but in a good way, like you’re going to have fun and you’re going to laugh a lot,’” Irene said of what her brother told her about the family. “That’s what I did.”

Irene, who is from a small town outside the capital city of Madrid, arrived in Seymour in late July 2021.

She started classes at Seymour High School in August and also had to do online classes for her school in Spain. Here, she was considered a junior, but in her home country, she was a senior.

One new thing she experienced here: School sports. In Spain, students can do sports outside of school as part of a club. Irene was a swimmer at home, but at SHS, she ran cross-country in the fall and played tennis in the spring.

“It was really fun. The girls team was amazing. That was my favorite part of cross-country. And also the coaches, super nice,” she said. “But at the middle of the season, I got injured, so I couldn’t run that much. Still, it was something different that I wanted to try, and it helped me a lot.”

Pablo worked his way up to varsity tennis when he was in Seymour, while Irene was on the junior varsity team.

“Tennis is amazing,” she said. “I had never played before, and I knew because of my brother that I wanted to do it. I had so much fun. It was amazing. All of the activities that they do, the team bonding, it’s amazing, and I got better, the coaches told me.”

At SHS, Irene also was involved with Owl Theatre Co.’s production of “Pandemonium,” doing hair and makeup backstage and serving as an extra with one line onstage.

“It was really cool because it was with my favorite teacher, so it was just really close and I met a lot of new people. They were really nice. It was amazing,” she said.

Kendra said she was impressed with Irene being able to make straight A-pluses in her SHS classes while taking classes for her school in Spain and doing extracurricular activities.

“All of that responsibility on a teenager is a lot to carry,” Kendra said.

Jennifer Miller, a regional manager for International Student Exchange, was impressed, too.

“She was so motivated to be here,” Miller said. “She has done everything she can to be successful, and I just think what a great example to anybody, no matter what country you live in, that you can be an American kid and be successful for that time that you’re here and make the most of it. She has absolutely done that and more.”

Outside of school, Irene experienced a variety of activities with the Zumhingsts. That included tubing on a lake, indoor skydiving, kayaking in a cave and camping.

She also had dogs and even got to ride in Kendra’s Volkswagen Beetle convertible, both new experiences.

“That is my favorite thing. I told Kendra I’m going to buy that car,” Irene said, smiling.

“She’s going to go home and get dogs and a convertible,” Miller added.

Irene and Kendra also went to New York City at Christmastime with another exchange student and her host mother.

“It felt like a dream because it was in my top list of things that I wanted to do in America, and Christmas, that’s just a dream,” Irene said.

While here, she also visited Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri.

The family even re-created photos of places they had taken Pablo with Irene.

“To watch the whole family have this memory of their time here for both of them, to me, that’s what makes this job so great,” Miller said. “To have a family like Kendra and Dave, who have hosted multiple students for me, to watch them have some of the same experiences, it’s always fun to do those same things and see how they appreciate it but also to do different things, as well.”

From Miller’s perspective, having families like the Zumhingsts that she knows she can trust to host an exchange student and take care of them is crucial.

“To do this, to be willing to have a student come into your home, you don’t have to vacation all the time, you don’t have to travel all the time, you don’t have to live in a big house. It’s about the heart and the home and the family and about wanting to try to make a difference in your community or make a difference for that child, for your own family,” Miller said.

“Sometimes, our own kids in our own home learn lessons that we never intended to teach them, but because that exchange student was in their home, they grow so much from that, and you just don’t even realize what an impact that’s going to have sometimes until years down the road,” she said.

The relationship the student gains with the family allows them to stay connected for years to come.

“(Irene) knows she can always come back and stay. She has this family for life,” Miller said.

Irene said Kendra was her best friend while in America, and that’s what made her recent departure so hard for both of them.

“I still stand there and bawl my eyes out knowing that she has left a footprint in our home and in our hearts,” Kendra said. “There’s just something special about her when she smiles. I’ve said this a million times, she has a smile that could light the world up. She doesn’t just smile with her eyes or her mouth. Joy just comes out.”

Back home, Irene will take exams to start college with plans to study medicine to become a doctor. She said college will be six years, and then she will have four years of residency. She said she may return to the United States to be a doctor.

“I have no doubt she’s going to go into the world and she’s going to do amazing stuff,” Kendra said.

Irene said Pablo is in college now studying engineering.

Miller is now looking forward to the next school year and can have up to 10 foreign exchange students at SHS. That number will depend on how many families or individuals agree to host.

This past school year, there were five exchange students there: Two from Spain and one each from Italy, Slovakia and United Kingdom. One only stayed for five months, while the others were there the whole school year.

“My goal every year is to try to have students from different countries so that it’s bringing in a wide, diverse group of kids and they are representing all areas of the world,” Miller said.

That’s good for the SHS students and the exchange students.

“Most of our kids who become such good friends while they are here in Seymour, because of the geography, they go back home and they see each other after they leave the program,” Miller said.

At a glance 

International Student Exchange is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that facilitates exchange programs for students in the United States and abroad.

It’s currently seeking volunteers in the area to host students while they attend local high schools. Married, single, empty nesters, with or without kids, all are welcome to apply to host an exchange student. Hosts must be vetted by ISE, pass a background check, provide room and board and two or three meals a day and exercise parental responsibility to ensure the student’s well-being.

Seymour High School can have up to 10 foreign exchange students for the 2022-23 school year.

To learn more about an opportunity to host a student or submit a host family application, visit or contact Regional Manager Jennifer Miller at 812-521-4904.

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