Pam and Mel Hanzel, active members of Providence’s Temple Emanu-El, have hosted exchange students for decades. I recently met with them and Britta, their third exchange student, from Germany, whom the Hanzels met 32 years ago.
“It has been very rewarding having Britta and her family in our lives all these years,” Pam said. “They were the first people to meet our children after we completed their adoptions, when we traveled through Germany to America.
“Between visits, Britta always sent us handwritten letters, and pictures, and we made visits for important milestones in each other’s lives. This included our children’s Bar Mitzvahs. I still have Britta’s letters and pictures, and the initial application she filled out, which spoke to me and caused me to select her.”
Britta said, “My relationship with the Hanzels, mom and dad, has been very stable for me. I have shared so much with them and I could always rely on them. They are part of my family.”
When I met with them, Britta was visiting with her son, Andreas, who met Pam and Mel for the first time.
Pam said she experienced loss at a very young age, and these exchanges have provided her with a very meaningful international family, as well as being important to her children. It is “very rewarding to invest in a young person and to help them on their journey. By giving to these kids, our lives have been extremely enriched,” she said.
In “A Place for Mom,” a senior-living blog, Kimberly Fowler posted the article “University Students Get Free Board in Exchange for Time Spent with Seniors.” Fowler notes that a study called “Effects of Intergenerational Interaction on Aging” found that “Both the group of seniors and the group of young people who interacted tended to reduce their stereotypes of each other. Interaction between seniors and young people resulted in improved opinions of one another. The state of mind of the seniors who interacted with the young people improved significantly.”
The Hanzels have shown this to be true in their own lives over the decades, as they hosted 20 students from around the world.
Mel reflected, “I remember when my dad was getting older and losing his friends and relatives. He adjusted his life to have younger friends and he stayed active. I think it is important to stay engaged.
“This motivated me to make relationships with people from different cultures. Although we don’t see each other all the time, when we do it is as though we have never been apart. This is true with Britta.”
Pam said, “When we travel, we go visit our ‘kids’ to be with them and their families in their environment. I lived with a family in Tucuman, Argentina, many years ago, and I was treated with so much love and kindness. I have been able to pay it forward and to give to others with this large international family that we have created.”
I asked the Hanzels their opinion about hosting an exchange student in ones’ older years. Pam said, “Yes, if you have the motivation and if you are healthy enough to do so, then it can be a very positive experience.” Mel added, “You should do it for the right reasons, such as helping someone else reach their goals and thereby enriching your own life in the process.”
PATRICIA RASKIN, owner of Raskin Resources Productions, is a media host, coach and award-winning radio producer and business owner. She has served on the board of directors of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence.