Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times Pictured left to right: Lily Wright, Lasse Lemke, Dennis Wright and Macon Christian Academy Principal Wayne Deering pose for a photo after Lemke's school day.

Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times

Pictured left to right: Lily Wright, Lasse Lemke, Dennis Wright and Macon Christian Academy Principal Wayne Deering pose for a photo after Lemke's school day.

For nearly 20 years, Dennis and Lily Wright have opened their home to exchange students from across the globe. Now the two are hosting their first visitor since moving to Macon County five years ago.

Lasse Lemke, a high school junior from Germany, recently came to stay with the Wrights.

Lemke is studying at Macon Christian Academy through AFS Intercultural Programs and will remain with the Wright family until next summer. He said that his experience in town has been positive, noting that he hopes to grow as a person and become more fluent in English.

"(Lafayette is) very fun ... the students are very friendly to me," Lemke said. "The weather is very good. The food is my favorite, along with learning the language better. I hope that I will be a better person (from spending time here)."

Seeing personal growth in foreign exchange students is nothing new to Lemke's host family. Before the two began hosting students, Lily Wright's sons traveled to Japan and Germany through exchange programs and reached turning points in their own lives.

"(Studying abroad) makes (children) mature, especially boys," Lily Wright said. "They started to think on their own … about their future and the past."

Some of the students who have stayed with the Wrights over the years still talk with them today, and others have brought their parents or other family members from home for visits.

"Two of the girls, their fathers either left or were killed when they were infants," Dennis Wright said. "So those two girls, I've had a lot of input into their growing up and showed them what it's like to live with a real functioning father. Everything about it is a wonderful experience."

For Lemke, the Wrights hope to see him grow more independent and learn about the cultural differences between the United States and Germany.

"Lasse came as a very polite, very respectful and very curious kid," Dennis Wright said. "Even in the two weeks he's been here … he helps me in the yard … with everything we need to do. He should also get a radically different political perspective than he would in Germany … and appreciation for the freedoms and responsibilities that go along with our unique experiment in government."

Another way that Lemke has experienced life in the U.S. is through taking classes and meeting new friends at Macon Christian Academy (MCA). At school, he is working through the basic state curriculum and receiving religious education.

According to MCA Principal Wayne Deering, Lemke is the first foreign exchange student to attend MCA, and the staff is interested in working with more in the future.

"(Lasse) has been a model student," Deering said. "Everyone seems to like him, and everyone wants to be friends with him. He smiles all the time. It's a very small school. We feel like a very low-pressure environment. There are smaller classes, 14 students in high school. We have 90 students K through 12 (in Kindergarten through 12th grade), and we have 31 pre-K students."

Over the years, the Wright family has grown to prefer smaller schools for exchange students based on their time in Texas, and they compared Macon County to their time spent in Elgin, Texas. Elgin is a smaller community near Austin.

"Houston was a huge community, and the high schools there were 5,000 kids, but they were all from the same community," Dennis Wright said. "When the kids came there, they couldn't get into the cliques that the kids had already formed at all. So, when we went to Elgin, the high school there was county-wide, so they didn't have all these insular groups. (The students) made life-long friends with people they met in Elgin."

Lemke's experiences in Macon County have been similar, and the Wrights noted how quickly the other students have welcomed him.

"With Lasse, being in this smaller school, he seems to have a more satisfactory relationship with other students," Dennis Wright said. "(Lasse's) already talking about how his classmates ask him to their homes overnight, which didn't happen for several months in the other community. This is a much more open, friendly environment."

Lily Wright, who is originally from Taiwan, said that the atmosphere reflects her experience in America.

"Americans, you don't realize how nice you are," Lily Wright said. "In Elgin, Americans went out of their way to invite my exchange students, take them on vacations and everything else. I hope in Macon County, other families can open up and think about sending their children abroad."