Our Neighbors...Arlette and Ron Haupt

Arlette and Ron Haupt don't quite know what to do when it's just the two of them. Although they've been married 34 years and have two children who graduated from high school and moved away years ago, their empty nest syndrome never fully took hol...

Foreign exchange student Young Sun Park (center) of South Korea gives a good-natured gasp as he looks at old photos belonging to his host parents Ron and Arlette Haupt of Carlton, as fellow exchange student Gisele Ribeiro of Brazil looks on. Park and Ribeiro are the 24th and 25th exchange students hosted by the Haupts in the past 23 years.

Arlette and Ron Haupt don't quite know what to do when it's just the two of them.

Although they've been married 34 years and have two children who graduated from high school and moved away years ago, their empty nest syndrome never fully took hold.

Instead, the Carlton couple has played host to foreign exchange students - and have welcomed their 24th and 25th this year.

"We never dreamed when we hosted our first student, that it would get to this point," Ron Haupt chuckled.

The idea to host an exchange student came when the Haupts lived in Thief River Falls, Minn., back in 1985.


"Ron got it started," Arlette explained. "He saw an ad in the paper and was interested in it because a friend of his in high school had one."

"I always thought it would be really neat," Ron concurred.

So, after a very minor placement process, 17-year-old Tammy from France was on her way to Minnesota. She landed in Bemidji in a snow storm, however, and since the roads were impassable, Tammy wound up flying as the only passenger on a small plane to a nearby airport. She was a bit rattled upon arrival, to say the least.

"It was total culture shock for Tammy," Arlette remembered. "None of us was very well prepared for the experience and then we realized as we tried to ask her questions, Tammy didn't speak very much English at all!"

Luckily, the Haupt children were young at the time - Jackie was 4 and Thom was 9, so the three of them learned different levels of the language together.

"We all watched a lot of Sesame Street in those days," Arlette laughed. "But Tammy picked up English almost perfectly in about a month."

Tammy did so well, in fact, that she was able to graduate from high school while living with the Haupts.

For Arlette, Tammy was more like a sister than a "daughter."


"I was in my late 20s and had never been responsible for a teenager," she said. "Things were so different then."

Ron laughed at the memory.

"Yep, now I feel like a grandpa," he added.

Following Tammy's stay, Arlette saw a job posting for representatives to help place foreign exchange students. She's been doing it ever since and now works for International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES).

In 1986, when Arlette was a first-year representative, their second exchange student - Guillermo from Spain - came to stay after his original placement didn't work out.

"That happens sometimes," she said. "I always hope when it does that it can be cordial and respectful."

Since then, the Haupts hosted one student a year while their kids lived at home and since their kids moved out, they've mostly hosted two students per year.

"We like having two at a time so they have a friend their age to hang out with," Arlette said.


With this year's duo, 15-year-old Young Sun Park from Seoul, South Korea, and 17-year-old Gisele Ribeiro of Victoria, Brazil, they chose based on past experience.

"We had students from Brazil and Korea before and it worked out so well," Arlette said.

The Haupts have invited youth from many other countries as well, ranging from Chile to Italy to Hong Kong. They all come into their home and into the American way of life - Minnesota style.

The environment they come to is a typical rural Minnesota abode, but with hints of other nations in the gifts they've received. From a handmade pillow from Brazil to framed photos, a display of small flags represents the countries of all the students who have stayed there.

The house is as warm and inviting as the Haupts, who often serve "hotdish" for supper and homemade cupcakes with purple frosting (Ribeiro's favorite color) for dessert. They also keep buckets of vanilla ice cream in the freezer, of which Park cannot seem to get enough.

"I eat so much here," he said with a grin. "But, not as much junk as my friends think I eat. They all ask if I eat McDonalds every day. I tell them it's not really like it is on T.V."

"The food is just part of the experience and the job of a host family is to show them a typical American life," said Arlette Haupt. "The best answer I can get from asking a potential host family why they want to do it is that they want to share our culture and learn about others. Communication is the key to a successful home stay."

The students attend Carlton High School, which Arlette said has been wonderful about taking exchange students. They are encouraged to try classes they might not have in their countries. Park and Ribeiro are taking full advantage of their opportunities.


Ribeiro is taking photography, drawing and cooking while Park is also in photography and just started learning to play the trumpet.

"At home we have school six days a week and there is not much time for fun," Park said.

Both students were involved in fall sports as well and plan to play basketball this winter. Park said talking with American friends on the bus was perhaps his favorite part of the sport.

On the weekends, the students hang out at home quite a bit.

"Here, I hang out with this nice family," Ribeiro said.

They watch movies and play games like Uno and cribbage. They also do a fair amount of traveling.

With daughter Jackie living in the Twin Cities and son Thom in Colorado, the Haupts have taken all their recent students on trips to visit them.

"We've shown so many kids Mount Rushmore [National Monument]," Ron said. "But, it's been fun every time."


The Haupts have learned as much about different cultures as they've taught, first through the students as they visited and then through their own travels to many of those countries.

"I don't think we ever would have gone overseas without doing this," Arlette said. "I never pictured us traveling out of the country."

Now, they often choose kids based somewhat on countries they've visited or would like to visit next.

They've visited former exchange students in Germany, Spain and Slovakia, for example, and have even been welcomed into their homes.

"Meeting their families is the real reward of having these kids stay," Arlette said. "It's so neat to see how they live and listen to all their stories."

The Haupts keep in touch with their "kids" as much as possible. With e-mail and Skype, software that allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet, it's much easier for them to stay connected.

"We can't keep up with everyone all the time but they seem to find us from time to time and our communication goes in spurts," Arlette said.

The Haupts don't plan to quit hosting students anytime soon. In fact, they may start hosting the next generation of kids.


"We have a former exchange student who wants to send her daughter to us and now that would be full circle," Arlette said.

What To Read Next
Get Local