GENEVA – Bob and Sandi Boelke did not realize when they hosted Denmark foreign exchange student Frederik Liberti in 1996 that their relationship with him would turn into a lifelong friendship.
The couple in May went to Copenhagen for two weeks to visit him. He has visited them nine times.
Kane County Chronicle Eric Schelkopf spoke to Sandi Boelke about the recent trip to see Liberti, who is 33 now and has a family.
Eric Schelkopf: What made you want to visit him this year?
Sandi Boelke: We wanted to meet his mother, whom we had never met. And now he has two children and a wife. So it was our turn to go there.
Schelkopf: So, you’ve literally seen him grow up over the years.
Boelke: Exactly. We keep in touch through Skype and his return visits, and we write notes and call him.
Schelkopf: What made you want to host a foreign exchange student in the first place?
Boelke: I felt like I really wanted my children to understand the different cultures and the different ways of Europe. And I do believe that they learned quite a bit from him.
He lived with us for a year. He went through Geneva High School and completed his senior year there.
His very favorite teacher there was Roxanne Curtis, the music teacher. And she did teach him a lot. He was in many of the groups, like the jazz group and the different groups that she had for the music students.
And he always played guitar up in his room.
Schelkopf: And now he fronts his own band.
Boelke: He does.
Schelkopf: He was at your house for a year. What types of things did you try to introduce him to?
Boelke: Well, of course, we went into Chicago, and we went to the ice skating rink. We went to lots of places around Kane County, like the Kane County Fair.
We took him to Springfield, so he could see all of the culture of our state. We also took him to Disney World in Orlando, and he accompanied our family to Niagara Falls.
Schelkopf: This was the first time you had been to Copenhagen. What did you think? Did it live up to your expectations?
Boelke: It was a very, very old country. And I’ve never seen so much cobblestone in my whole entire life.
You know how everything is paved here? It was all cobblestone there.
But it was a very unique country, and very beautiful. We took a ride on a Viking ship, which was really incredible.
Schelkopf: When was the last time he visited you here?
Boelke: Three years ago. He came here for a week, and then he went to see the Redwoods in California.
Schelkopf: Did you think this relationship would last this long?
Boelke: No, I never would have imagined that we would become so close. In all sense of the word, he is my son.
He loves having two mothers. He calls me “mom,” but he also calls his mother “mom.”
It was strange being there with his mom. He would say “mom,” and we would both look.
Schelkopf: Since he visits you so much, obviously he sees himself as your son as well. He must have a good bond with your family.
Boelke: We’ve had other foreign exchange students, but he is the only one who really clicked with us. And that happens.
The other ones were a little bit more distant. But he just fell in with our family.
He was a lot like us. Also, he was great at the high school. He fit in with the kids, and he loved being there. He appreciated it.
Schelkopf: Have your children gotten to see him over the years as well?
Boelke: Yes. My daughter and her husband went with us to Copenhagen, and when we Skype, we try to include them as much as possible.
Schelkopf: So, do you see yourself hosting any more foreign exchange students in the future?
Boelke: We possibly might get involved again. It was more for when the kids were in high school, but I do see us doing it again, just to have someone who needs a place to stay.
Schelkopf: For someone thinking of hosting a foreign exchange student, what would you say the benefits are?
Boelke: Well, you can teach everyone in the household about other cultures and different societies.
But he did speak English very, very well, and that was a plus. The Danes learn English in fifth grade, so they start very early. There was no language barrier. He spoke as well as us.
Also, you learn from each other. There is no doubt that we learned a lot from him, and he learned a lot from us.