UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

Host Family Spotlight 

We have asked some of our host families and participating students to share more about their experiences.  Check out what they had to say...

Family Spotlights
The Bennis'

Our family has had the pleasure of hosting many international students over the years. We have enjoyed every minute of it! We have learned so much from each and every one of them!

In the fall of 2011 we were matched with Rocio. For our first family get together we invited her to our home to watch a football game. As you might imagine, we didn't really watch that much football! Rocio was so interesting and fun to visit with that we just talked with her the whole time. She is so smart, polite, and very funny! Rocio was born in Mexico City where she earned her undergraduate degree. Rocio came to UW-River Falls to obtain her MBA after working in Guatemala for a number of years.

A week or two after our first visit, Rocio came to our home for dinner. I made her favorite - Italian! We asked her way too many questions about her culture, traditions, and family. She is so pleasant and patient with us. Rocio is very proud of her family - she is really close to them. When she talks about them it is with so much pride. Rocio is well organized, loves to learn about American culture and is able to make friends very easily! 

Last January, we decided to add to our family by offering to host another international student! Our second host student is from Brazil and his name is Esteban. Esteban is such a nice young man! Soon after we met, we invited Esteban and Rocio to our home for a family dinner. I'm sure Esteban got tired of us asking questions about his family, culture, and life in Brazil. He is so patient with us - just like Rocio! Esteban loves the outdoors - camping, hiking, biking - he'll do it all! He shared stories about some of the biking and camping trips he's taken - he's quite adventurous. Esteban was so comfortable with us from the very start, as we were with him. He knows what he wants in life and we're sure he will achieve it! 

In August, we asked if there were any other students who need a host family and we added one more international student to our family! We have the pleasure of hosting Frank too! Frank is from China and has been in the US for just a few months. As with Rocio and Esteban, we ask Frank a lot of questions about his culture, traditions, and family. We just love learning about our students!  Frank is a very nice young man and we look forward to getting to know him better!

We have done many activities with our host students including concerts, trips to the Twin Cities, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, dinners at our home, family celebrations/holidays, and much more! Sometimes we don't do anything - we just talk and share many laughs together! We look forward to spending time with each of our students!

The Host Family Program is so rewarding for the families but it's not all about us. It's about the students - that they have a place to go and people they can call their family and friends. We know our lives are better having known the and we hope they can say the same! Everyone should experience this very rewarding program! We love our kids! 

Dan, Cyndy, and Daniel Bennis

The Rehnelt's

We met Julia Koch through the Host Family Program through International Student Services.  We have been having a lot of fun getting to know Julia and showing her what day-to-day life is like in Wisconsin.  The night of the Family Dinner in January, we went for a drive around River Falls and showed Julia one of the most important things about living in a small U.S. town………REDBOX!!!

We also went to Maplewood Mall so Julia could get better winter boots and a few other items she needed.  After shopping, we went to Stillwater for dinner at Nacho Mamas. Julia had not had Mexican food before, so that was something new that we could do together. 

This week, Julia is going to come with us to our daughter, Emma’s, hockey game.  She has never seen a hockey game before.  

I can tell you right now that May is going to come way too soon!  We have so many activities and sites that we want to do and see with Julia!!!  

It will definitely be difficult to say goodbye to our new friend!!

Sherry Rehnelt

The Rubbelke's

Hi! My name is Jodi, and we are the Rubbelke’s. This is our second year being a host family for an international student. Our family consists of my husband, Todd, and our two daughters, Shelby (25) and Kelsey (23).

This year, we are hosting Mathilde Hollman from Odense, Denmark.  We first met Mathilde at the Host Family Dinner. That first meeting was a little stressful and exciting at the same time.  We did not really know what to expect, wondered if she would like us, and if she would she like the activities we were planning.  It didn’t take long before all the stress was gone.  We found that Mathilde was a very sweet girl, who likes to shop, try new foods, and explore her surroundings, much like our own daughters.

In the short time we have known Mathilde, we have been able to do quite a few activities. For our first outing, we wandered around the St Paul Farmer’s Market, buying fruits, vegetables, and some flowers.  After a day of shopping at the Albertville Outlet Center, it was back to our home for dinner, with grilled chicken, corn on the cob, and summer squash-all things we bought from the farmer’s market.

For our second meeting, we picked Mathilde up around 11:00 a.m., and we were off to the Franconia Sculpture Garden in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.  The next stop was Wild Mountain alpine slide and then, we were off to Pleasant Valley Orchards for a couple bags of apples. We hopped back in the truck and headed to Hudson for their local art fair. We had dinner at Brine’s in Stillwater and decided that you can’t go to Stillwater without a trip to Trembley’s candy store.  After that, it was a quick trip to Target and back to UWRF.  It was a very busy day. We spent a lot of time in the truck and it was a great opportunity to ask Mathilde about her family, friends, and her country.  I don’t know about Mathilde, but we were exhausted at the end of the day!!

Some upcoming events will include UWRF Family Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday shopping, football, ice fishing, Christmas, the Holidazzle parade, baking, and just hanging out.  We look forward to spending more with Mathilde and learning more about her family, friends, and Denmark. 

Student Spotlights
Rocio Bonilla

Hola! My name is Rocio Bonilla, I was born in Mexico City. This is my first semester at UWRF. It has been quite a wonderful experience being here. My host parents are Dan and Cyndy Bennis and my host brother is Daniel Bennis. They also have two, small, beautiful dogs. 

The first time I went to their home, I was excited and nervous, but it went really well. We watched a football game and we talked a lot about my new life in River Falls. We also got to know each other a little bit. 

A few weeks later they invited me to have dinner with them. We ate Italian food, which is my favorite. We had a nice conversation, talking about my country and my traditions. I really enjoyed their company. I had lunch with them on Thanksgiving Day and had the opportunity to meet the rest of their family.  They were all really lovely and sweet, and they were really nice to me. After lunch, I did crafts with the women of the family; it was a different experience for me, and I had so much fun. I definitely had a wonderful day, and they made me feel at home!

I am very thankful to have them as my host family.  They have been very kind to me and welcomed me into their family. They care about me and regularly check-in to make sure I am doing okay. They have offered me their unconditional support. They have also shown me American culture and invited me to do many activities with them.

I have share many good moments with them. I love talking to Dan and Cindy, and my host brother, Daniel, is such a nice person. I am a very lucky girl! Dan and Cindy have made me feel like part of their family. I feel very blessed. I am sure we will have many more great moments together!

Jui-Hung (Eric) Chen

Hi! My name is Jui-Hung Chen (Eric), and I am an exchange student from Taiwan! I would like to talk about my great experiences and time with my host family. I came to River Falls last semester, and I have been here for eight months. Paul and Sean are my host family. Before I came here, I knew nothing about River Falls. They have been so nice to me and have taken me to a lot of places in River Falls so I could become more familiar with this area. I have had a wonderful time hanging out with them. Last Halloween, my friends and I went to their house to carve pumpkins. It was my first time, and I really enjoyed it! They helped me feel engaged in this traditional, American holiday! 

Last Christmas was another great experience with them. They invited me to their house to have a Christmas feast. The food they made was really awesome! After dinner, they gave me a Christmas gift! They gave me a blanket to keep me warm because I had been freezing during the winter in Wisconsin! I was really touched when I received the gift because it was my first Christmas gift, ever. Christmas is not a holiday in Taiwan. Paul and Sean have really taken care of me, and I really appreciate it!

Since this is my last semester studying in River Falls, I may not see Sean and Paul before I go back to Taiwan. However, I will never forget what they have done for me. They  treated me as if I were their child. Without them, I would not have experienced real American life. Also, I would not have experienced the Amish community. I asked if they could take me to an Amish community in Wisconsin, and they did! All in all, I really feel lucky to have Sean and Paul as my host family. Because of them, I do not feel lonely-only loved!

Mathilde Hollman

 Hello! My name is Mathilde, and I am an exchange student from Denmark. I have been in River Falls for a month now and the time goes by fast when you are having fun and experiencing a lot. 

My host parents are Jodi and Todd Rubbelke. My first meeting with my host family was at the Host Family Dinner. I was excited and a little nervous, but it went really well. We talked a lot and got to know each other a little bit. They asked me a lot of questions about Denmark and my family in Denmark and we talked about what I want to experience while I am studying at UWRF.

One week after the Host Family Dinner, Jodi, Todd, and I met the second time. We spent a whole Saturday together so we could learn more about each other. We began the day at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, and we relaxed for a couple of hours at their house in Minnesota, where I met their two sweet dogs, Lucy and Hannah. We also took a trip to Albertville Premium Outlets and did some shopping. We finished the day with a barbecue dinner outside on the terrace at Todd and Jodi’s house. Their daughter, Shelby, and her boyfriend, Joe, also joined us for dinner. It was a really good day.

We have a lot of different activities planned while I am here. For example, we are planning to watch an American football game in Minnesota, eat Thanksgiving dinner together, and shop Black Friday. 

I think it is really nice to have a host family who wants to show me the American culture and do different activities with me. It is also nice to be a part of a family who takes good care of me and supports me if I need help. I am looking forward to spending more time with the Rubbelke’s and be a part of their family. I am sure we will create memories none of us will forget.

Ya Hsin (Vanessa) Kang

Hi! My name is Ya-Hsin, Kang (Vanessa), and I am from Taiwan. I have been River Falls since July, 2011. I have had lots of great experiences with my host family. My host parent’s names are Dee and Curtiss Larson. We have eaten together many times. My mom is a good cook, and she always makes different meals and desserts. She made an excellent pasta dish that I had never tried before. Last week, Mom cooked Chinese-style fried rice that was delicious. Sometimes, Mom makes banana cakes, homemade cookies, or jam for me to bring back to campus. Dad is a smart person who knows lots of things, so he always tells me stories about his experiences or teaches me something about life. The funny thing is that he takes out tools or samples when he is telling a story to help me understand him clearly. I also went to see a basketball game, play, and chorus with my host family.

We had a great time during Halloween and also celebrated my birthday together. On Halloween, Mom taught me how to carve a pumpkin. We waited for children to trick-or-treat at their house while we had dinner. Before I experienced the holiday, I imaged what it was like from my teacher’s descriptions and envied American children who were able to celebrate. So, I can’t believe I was able to celebrate Halloween here.

In December, Mom and Dad held a birthday party for me. Dad and I were born on the same day! I invited my friends to celebrate our birthdays and have a meal together. Mom gave everyone a sock with candy inside. She made a big chocolate cake for me, gave me a present and a card, and sang the birthday song in English and Chinese. 

They do lots of sweet things for me, and they take care of me. Now, I realize what the American life and culture are like. I think I am really lucky to know my host family, and I love them very much.    

Tae Gyun Kim

 Hi! My name is Tae Gyun Kim, and I’m from South Korea. I’ve been here for two months.  I’ve had great experience with many international students and American students. 

When I first met my host family, I was very happy because they were really kind and nice people. My host parent’s names are Bill and Linda. Their kid’s names are Kaija, John, and Erik. I’ve had dinner with them many times. I love to have a meal with them because Linda cooks really well. Every time I eat with them, I really appreciate  American food. Their chocolate cookies are especially great. 

Last weekend, Bill made Chapchae, a traditional Korean noodle. Even I have a difficult time making it, but it was the original flavor. I was very thankful that they make such special dishes for me. I felt like I was in my home. 

Sometimes, Linda takes me to the orchard close to their house, where I picked some raspberries. She also made jam for me. I still keep it in my refrigerator. 

I’ve also had an enjoyable time with their kids and my roommate. We played Wii games together and went ice skating. Ice skating was very fun. I am planning to ask them to watch a hockey game at the ice skating rink, too.

During my time with my host family, I can understand what an American family is like. I used to wonder about American family life and how they live. Now, I’ve seen this happy, kind family.  They love each other, and they always care for me first. Throughout this, I appreciate their family value, “Love.”

Xuanyun (Swan) Wang

Hello, my name is Xuanyun Wang, and I am an international student from China.  I have been in River Falls for almost one year, and I have had a lot of wonderful moments with my host family.  My host parents are Darryl and Hiroko.  Maybe you can tell from my host mother’s name that she is Japanese.  They have two lovely children, Hannah and Kent.  Hannah is in second grade, and Kent is still in kindergarten. Both of them can speak fluent Japanese.  This is an amazing family!

I usually meet them once  every two weeks to join them for dinner.  Darryl picks me up in the afternoon, so I can play with the kids for awhile before dinner. Hiroko is a really good cook.  Her Japanese dishes are delicious.  Darryl can also grill good burgers.  After dinner, we watch movies together or play Wii games. During most of my visits, Darryl will take a picture so we can remember the day!

If there are opportunities, my host family will bring me to outdoor activities, too!  We went to the Hudson Theater for a song and dance drama.  We also spent Halloween at the Minnesota Zoo in Minneapolis.  The most exciting time was skiing during my winter break. Darryl, Hannah, and I went to Green Acres in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. That was my first time skiing. Darryl was very patient while teaching me some simple skills. I fell more than five times, but it was a really great experience.  

Darryl, Hiroko, Hannah, and Kent form an awesome host family.  Now, I am glad I still have a long time left at UWRF, so I can still have fun with them! I look forward to spending more time with them!

Host Family Photos

Our Host Families have been busy!  Take a look at our family photo album to see what they have been up to!