Time of her life: Exchange student from Bosnia reflects on experience in Westfield


Leaving home and traveling thousands of miles away as part of a foreign exchange program brought Ines Hasanagic to Westfield, where she was greeted with welcoming arms.

Hasanagic, a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stayed at the home of Westfield resident Sharon Eickhoff after arriving here nearly a year ago. Hasanagic and Eickhoff became connected after being matched through AFS-USA, a New York-based nonprofit that pairs international high school exchange students with host families in the United States.

Eickhoff, who teaches in Mooresville, said she decided to participate as a host parent after learning about the experience from friends, who have hosted exchange students five times in the past.

“I always thought that would be something I would really enjoy,” Eickhoff said. “I’m a teacher and I really can’t go places, so it was nice to be able to bring someone here.”

Eickhoff said she read several biographies of students and thought Hasanagic was a good fit to host at her home based on information such as her family and a personal interest in the outdoors.

“I liked the fact that she connected with her parents,” Eickhoff said. “And, you know, enjoyed doing different things that I like to do.”

Hasanagic, 17, arrived to the United States in August of last year on a trip that took her from Bosnia to Frankfurt, Germany, before a four-hour layover. From that point, Hasanagic traveled to Washington, D.C., for orientation before making her way to Indianapolis, where she was picked up by Eickhoff at the airport.

Although Hasanagic said it was “overwhelming” coming here at first, she said she bonded with Eickhoff immediately.

“We just clicked from the first day,” Hasanagic said. “I remember having deep, deep, deep conversations the second day.”

Hasanagic, who returned home earlier this month, attended Westfield High School, where she participated in the Westfield Shamrocks Rugby Club. One of the major differences Hasanagic experienced while living in Westfield was the overall student population at Westfield High School in comparison to her international school back home.

“As soon as I got adjusted and into the routine, I never got homesick again,” Hasanagic said.

Hasanagic also found no shortage of activities at Westfield High School as she also participated in the school’s speech and debate club and the Best Buddies program. She said that school in Westfield was different in several ways – from how long the school day is to the relationships students have with each other and the teachers.

In addition, she said being in Westfield allowed her to select her own classes, while in Bosnia, that wasn’t necessarily the case. She said there are no clubs at her home school. At WHS, she was a senior. In Bosnia, she would have been a sophomore.

“It’s much, much different,” Hasanagic said.

Hasanagic, who created a scrapbook filled with photos from her experiences in the United States, took advantage of every opportunity, including attending prom and going to the Indiana State Fair last year. She said one of her favorite experiences was attending the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.

“That was mind-blowing,” she said. “I told Sharon, ‘I wish I could go and (get) to experience it,’ and two days later, she said, ‘I bought tickets, you’re going.’”

Hasanagic said she has changed as an individual for the better because of her experience in Westfield.

“I think for me, I always lacked confidence and I always appeared to be a very confident individual, but I feel like I never really felt sure (in myself), but here, I’ve really proved I can do whatever I desire and that I am not dependent on anyone or anything,” Hasanagic said.

She also enjoyed her involvement with the Westfield Shamrocks Rugby Club.

“It was one of the best experiences I had this year and the only regret I have about this year is not joining rugby sooner,” she said.

Hasanagic plans to visit the United States again in the future, adding that she and Eickhoff plan to stay in touch.

“I think we’ll remain as close as we are today,” she said. “Coming here, I gained a friendship for sure. Wherever I go or whatever point in life I’m in, she’s always going to be my host mom and she’s going to be my mom and I’m always going to remember her.”

Exchange Student 3
Ines Hasanagic, a foreign exchange student from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Westfield resident Sharon Eickhoff pause for a photo inside Eickhoff’s home. (Photo by Adam Seif)

How to host an AFS exchange student

Anyone interested in hosting an AFS exchange student can call 1-800-AFS-INFO or visit afsusa.org for more information. To volunteer, visit afsusa.org/volunteer to learn more about different opportunities available.