July 25, 2022
Nastya Vershenya ’01 and Sarah Hanson Salgado ’03 are each other’s chosen family. Their story begins in Sarah’s seventh grade year at MPA, when, as an only child, MPA’s call for families to host an international student was appealing and exciting. Both Sarah’s family and Nastya, coming as an international student to MPA from Minsk, were looking for the same thing, but none of them expected to gain a bonus sister/daughter in the process.
“Twenty some years later, she’s still a part of our family,” Sarah said. “Her [Nastya’s] daughter calls my parents her grandparents, and my parents refer to Nastya as their bonus daughter. We truly did gain a family member from the experience.”
We were able to connect with Sarah and Nastya together to share their heartwarming story as a host family and bonus family member.
How did you meet and become family?
Sarah found what she was searching for in a sister and friend in Nastya. “I’m an only child. When I was preschool age, my parents had done a couple college student homestays at our house. As a three, four, and five-year-old, that was really fun for me! I remembered liking that, and the summer after seventh grade, MPA sent out a newsletter looking for host families. I called my mom at work to say ‘Mom, you have to call MPA right now, and we’re gonna do this!’”
Nastya was drawn to MPA after her family’s experience with Friendship Force. Friendship Force connects families with others, staying with each other as host families for weeks at a time. Her family happened to connect with an MPA family, and they presented an opportunity for the international program to her.
The day Nastya was supposed to arrive in Minnesota, there was a massive airline workers’ strike. She couldn’t get to MSP, and had to reroute to Chicago as the closest available airport. Sarah’s family was so adamant about not delaying Nastya’s arrival, that at three in the morning they made the drive to Chicago to personally pick her up.
Why did you and your family decide to become a host family?
Whether or not either Sarah or Nastya realized how long-term their relationship would be, it developed and grew so naturally that Nastya extended her stay with Sarah for the rest of her time at MPA.
“It worked out that we had a great time with Nastya and a good experience. She was planning to stay at MPA and it just made sense to keep her in our family,” Sarah recalls.
Nastya notes that for her, it was key to have that consistency. “There were other host families available at the time, but Sarah’s mom thought that there should be consistency–without realizing that it would a 20 year commitment!”
“It was a one-year commitment in the beginning–it wasn’t meant to be automatically extended through the end of high school,” Nastya said. “At the end of the first year, I decided I would stay. And then we sat down and had a discussion with Sarah’s parents about me being better about chores!”
What is the most impactful part of each of your experiences?
For Nastya, it’s hard to summarize. “It totally changed my life. In hindsight of what’s happening in the world, I’m very lucky I had the opportunity to come to MPA when I did. Having MPA and Sarah’s family as my home base made a big difference from if I went to a public high school. A small and supportive environment was very positive for me.”
Sarah agrees–she witnessed Nastya’s growth firsthand. “The path that it took you on and the opportunities you had as an adult…being able to go to MPA and be in the US for your secondary education opened a lot of doors.”
What would you tell another family considering hosting an international student?
“I hope other families develop lifelong connections. I think getting the chance to have someone else become part of your family, whether a short or long period, provides so many opportunities for expanding your worldview,” Sarah said. “Be open minded and gracious to have somebody new in your family. It can be an incredible experience.”
“Learn about their culture and the country they’re coming from,” Nastya noted. “We’ve gone traveling together to Russia and various cities so I could show Sarah the place that I am from. Really learn what other countries and people that live there are about. It’s much more than just having a relationship with the student, but also their family. Sarah doesn’t just know me, she knows my parents and my brother.”
“MPA’s community and culture made it a lot easier to have a very nurturing and committed experience to being a host family, because the small, intimate community is very welcoming and accepting,” Sarah added. “I had no idea when I told my mom to call that we would have a lifelong connection to each other. It feels like a special gift.”