Like going back in time
It had been 33 years since Regina Schantz had seen her host brother from Sweden, but when she saw him again it was like going back in time.
“He looked just like he did when he was 14,” Schantz said. “It is funny because he would be 50 or 51 right now. When he pulled up and pointed at me I was like ‘Of course that’s him.’”
Schantz spent 10 months in Sweden from 1975-76 as a Rotary exchange student. She lived with her host brother, Thomas Keifer, and his parents in Falsterbo.
When she returned to the United States after 10 months, she tried to keep in touch. After a while she lost touch with her host family.
“I used to write with my host mom, but life goes on and we just quit doing that,” Schantz said. “I always knew I could find him one way or another again.”
Three years ago Schantz was speaking with her daughter, Allison, about her host family in Sweden and how she would like to reconnect with them. Allison suggested she try searching for them on Facebook.
“I had googled their names before,” Schantz said, “but when my kids finally allowed me to be on Facebook I just started putting in names of people I knew from there.”
Schantz made an emotional discovery about her host family when she googled their name.
“I had two brothers that I lived with when I was there,” Schantz said. “Once, I put in one of their names [Stefan was the second brother]. It came up that he had passed away. I thought surely not. He would have been 45 years old.”
She later found out that Stefan had cancer. She also learned her host mother had passed away because of cancer at the same time.
This is what really pushed her to search for her other host family members, she said. She found her host sister who lived in Minnesota while Schantz was in Sweden as an exchange student, and asked her to forward her information to Thomas.
Tina forwarded Schantz’s information to her brother and they began writing back and forth. In August 2012 Schantz traveled to Germany with her husband, Dave, to visit the foreign exchange student she hosted, and took a detour through Sweden.
“When I decided to do this trip to Germany, I thought this was the opportunity to go back to Sweden,” she said.
There wasn’t a guarantee that she would be able to see her host brother or for how long, but Schantz felt the strong pull to return to Sweden. She said he didn’t know what his summer plans would be at the time but she decided to book the tickets anyways. Things eventually did work out for them to get together.
“In the end we made arrangements for my brother to pick up at our hotel,” she said. “He drove us down to the village [Falsterbo] where I lived, and we had lunch with his wife.”
While driving her around Falsterbo her host brother asked her if she recognized the house they lived in together.
“He said, ‘OK, tell me which one was our house,’ and I was like ‘It was that one right there,’ ” she said.
They got out of the car to take a picture, and the current owner of the home was in the yard. Her host brother explained to the owner what they were doing there, and the owner offered to let them go inside.
“It was neat for my host brother because he hadn’t lived there since 1980,” she said. “To actually go in and see the living room again, that was just fun.”
The experience of being in her home in Sweden was made more eventful to Schantz because her husband was with her.
“It was just so nice for my husband to see that, because that year I spent there was just a special year to me,” she said.
After the short time she spent with her host brother, she returned to her hotel. She and her husband spent two additional days in the country before they moved on to Germany to see their foreign exchange daughter.
Even with the short amount of time with her host brother, Schantz knows one thing: she will keep in touch with him.
“Facebook will certainly help with that,” she said. “I’ve offered an open invitation for him to come visit. For him to come here and visit would be wonderful.”
She will eventually return to Sweden for a longer trip. She hopes to spend more time with her host brother and see her host father, who wasn’t able to see her when she was in Sweden last.