LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Bruce and Cindy Tarter of London have been welcoming foreign strangers into their home for 26 years and, by doing so, they've extended their family around the world. Marei Vossberg from Hamburg, Germany, is a senior at South Laurel High School and is their most recent foreign exchange student.
The amount of families hosting foreign exchange students is dwindling, Cindy Tarter said, therefore they often opt to bring in two students at a time. The couple has already raised three of their own children, but enjoy having someone around the house to keep them young.
"The hardest thing for us to learn was how to take them from being a guest to being a part of the family, to learn to connect with us," she said.
Making time to make the bed in the morning and run out to catch the bus has been the most daunting task for all of the Tarters' past guests. For Vossberg, making her bed is the least of her worries because even riding the school bus is a new experience. In her home country, she travels to school by public transportation.
"Everything was different but then I just learned it and I got used to it and I felt at home," Vossberg said.
To prepare for her year in America, Vossberg watched many American movies. Movies are a primary way many foreign exchange students try to understand what to expect, but they soon find out that they're not exactly an accurate depiction of life here.
"Most of their parents they let them stay out late and they don't have curfews, then they come here and we are looking after someone else's daughter and we don't allow a lot of things," Bruce Tarter said.
"It's a big responsibility," Cindy added.
Once the new members of the family get settled, they soon find out what's expected of them. They help with various chores around the house, such as setting the dinner table, doing their own laundry and cleaning their bathroom.
"It's a shock for all of them. It's such a huge change," Cindy said.
But Vossberg has fit in quite well with the Tarters. After learning how to do household chores, she freely helps set the table, says grace before an evening meal and cares for the couple's two dogs as if they were her own. She even helped the Tarters move into their new home last year.
On calm evenings at the Tarter household, music can be heard from the formal living room piano accompanied by soothing vocals. Vossberg is a talented pianist and vocalist. Vossberg has joined the choir at SLHS and performed in Madrigals. She is soon to play in the choir's newest theatre production, "Once Upon a Mattress."
The Tarters have helped Vossberg find a elegant dress for prom, will take her on a road trip to Connecticut to see their daughter, and will see her off at graduation in May with her mother Anja Vossberg in attendance.
Vossberg has touched the lives of the Tarters, and she's made herself a part of the family more than a guest.
"I wanted to have the best family, and now I'm here and I think it was the best decision," Vossberg said.
To find out how to host a foreign exchange student, visit www.effoundation.org.