A Home Away from Home; Tom and Lea Walls Have Welcomed Foreign Exchange Students into Their Family Home since 1991. Students from 13 Countries -- Germany, Norway, France, Argentina, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, Venezuela, South Korea, Slovenia, Ukraine, Turkey and Italy -- Have Literally Left Their Mark at the Modest Brick Home in South Union Township. [Derived Headline]

By LaCAVA, Franklin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 14, 2015 | Go to article overview

A Home Away from Home; Tom and Lea Walls Have Welcomed Foreign Exchange Students into Their Family Home since 1991. Students from 13 Countries -- Germany, Norway, France, Argentina, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, Venezuela, South Korea, Slovenia, Ukraine, Turkey and Italy -- Have Literally Left Their Mark at the Modest Brick Home in South Union Township. [Derived Headline]


LaCAVA, Franklin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Tom and Lea Walls have welcomed foreign exchange students into their family home since 1991. Students from 13 countries -- Germany, Norway, France, Argentina, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, Venezuela, South Korea, Slovenia, Ukraine, Turkey and Italy -- have literally left their mark at the modest brick home in South Union Township.

"Every kid who lived here did a hand- or footprint on a corner of the kitchen wall," Lea Walls said. "One even did a nose print."

The couple works through Nacel Open Door, a St. Paul, Minn., nonprofit that specializes in placing students age 18 or younger from all parts of the world in American homes. Students may choose to immerse themselves in the English language and American culture for a period as brief as two weeks or for a number of years depending on their needs and interests.

Currently the Walls are hosting a 17-year-old student from Daejeon, South Korea, Jiynu Park, who has adopted the name Helen. Park is beginning her second year of study in the United States at Geibel Catholic High. She is interested in working with animals in a yet to be determined career role and finds the American educational system more conducive to self-discovery than that of her native land.

"When I was in Korea, I wanted to study animals," she said. "But the Korean system is (so rigorous) we worked from morning until late at night with tutors. There is a lot of competition for the best grades that will lead to the best jobs. Suicides (among students) are common. A boy in my class disappeared from school. I found out from friends that he just couldn't take the pressure."

The Walls' involvement in hosting foreign students came from a tragic event.

"I lost a full-term son in 1990," Lea Walls said. "We had made a room upstairs into a nursery and it was empty. I had been a Girl Scout leader with my friend Christine Buckelew. She and her husband, Tom, also hosted exchange students and asked me to take in a German girl, Nina, from Wiesbaden. …

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A Home Away from Home; Tom and Lea Walls Have Welcomed Foreign Exchange Students into Their Family Home since 1991. Students from 13 Countries -- Germany, Norway, France, Argentina, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, Venezuela, South Korea, Slovenia, Ukraine, Turkey and Italy -- Have Literally Left Their Mark at the Modest Brick Home in South Union Township. [Derived Headline]
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