As foreign exchange students were hugging members of their host families possibly for the last time, rain momentarily fell despite a sunny Monday morning.

“The skies are crying,” Brenda Stoll remarked.

AFS-USA students who stayed with families throughout Eastern Jackson County the past 11 months all gathered at the Roger T. Sermon Community Center in Independence Monday before boarding a bus that will take them to Houston, Texas, from where they be flying back to their home countries. About 14 teenaged students from around the world attended Independence area high schools, including Fort Osage, this past school year.

“It’s sad, but I’m excited to go back home,” said Greta Myers of Osnabruck, Germany, who attended Truman High School.

What was most different about living in Missouri compared to Germany is the inclusion of athletics and activities at school, she added. In her home country, school is strictly for academics; in order to play sports, you have to join a league or group outside of school. Greta’s host family, Pam and Whitney Huff of Independence, said sports were also a great way for her to meet students and make new friends.

Another stark difference between the States and Deutschland is transportation. The Huffs said Greta would usually ride her bike everywhere in her home country or use the mass transit system in contrast to our reliance on personal automobiles.

Moemi Matsumoto of Tokyo, Japan, who attended William Chrisman High School, elaborated on what Greta said about American high schools being set apart from the rest of the world. In Japan too, she said, school is only for education - and teachers require students to study eight hours per day - and it doesn’t offer a theater program, which she enjoyed participating in at Chrisman.

“We study hard,” Matsumoto said about school in Japan.

Ron Gage of Independence said that Japanese culture is “very conservative” when it comes to natural resources. And that showed itself in some customs exchange students exhibited, he said. Gage, whose family hosted Emily Shinoda of Japan, said Shinoda would only use the water to rinse during a shower.

“You could hear the water only running for like 30 seconds,” Gage recalled. “Then it would be turned off when she lathered with soap.”

Both AFS Hosting Coordinator Stoll and Independence Chapter President Donald Coffman said all foreign students who participate in the exchange program are “very well-behaved” and appreciative of their stay in America. The two added that a host family is like being an American ambassador of sorts.

“You have the opportunity to show off your country,” Stoll said about the benefits on being a host family. “Plus you will start noticing things that we usually take for granted.”

Coffman also said it is a great opportunity to expand one’s horizons, plus families of the exchange students sometimes allow you to stay at their residence should you choose to visit their country. Stoll added that you may see parts and features of a country that aren’t visited by regular tourists. She recalled a trip where she “stayed at a cabin in the mountains” that was arranged by the Netherlands family whose son stayed with her and her family here in Missouri during the AFS program.

“They are very appreciative of you housing their child.”

Coffman and Stoll said there is a shortage of families to host foreign exchange students in the Eastern Jackson County area for the upcoming school year.

“We need 25 to 30 families by mid July,” said Coffman.

Stoll said local families simply need to provide a bed, food, transportation and a loving environment in order to apply to be a host family. If interested, families can either visit  or call her directly at 816-804-3236 for more information.

But families should brace themselves, Coffman hinted. “The worst part is right here,” he said in reference to Monday morning when all of the students said good-bye to return to their homeland.

“You will become attached. It’s like seeing one of your own leaving.”