Updated: 08/24/2013 3:30 PM KSTP.com By: Todd Wilson
15 year old Bekzhan Tashbaev is meeting his Minneapolis host family for the first time. He is a foreign ex-change student from Kyrgyzstan, a former Russian Republic.
"I'm very excited, I can not believe I'm in the U.S," Tashbaev said.
In his country Bekzhan means, "Strong Soul." Courage is exactly what it's taken for this teenager to leave his family and everything he knows to live with strangers for the entire school year. The actual distance from Kyrgyzstan to Minneapolis is 6,338 miles. So did he study up on his new hometown?
"Yes, I looked at Google maps," Tashbaev said.
It is also the first time Ariel Abell has hosted a foreign exchange student. A friend told her about the opportunity and she was all for it.
"I'm really excited to have somebody from another country and welcome them into our home and teach them about the U.S.A. As we can," Abell said.
Gwen McNallan is that friend. She is in charge of the Midwestern region, That's about 11 states, and 350 students, for ASSE International Student Exchange Programs.
"In Minnesota currently I have 44 but I will have closer to 50," McNallan said.
Kids come from all over the globe. We are talking about Western Europe, Africa and South America to name a few. They either stay for a semester or the entire school year. Each student and host family must go through a screening process.
"Criminal background checks for everybody under 18 living in the home. We do a series of background references, we do a home visit," McNallan said.
Tashbaev passed with flying colors. He says, this is chance of a life time he will never forget.