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Student Survives Difficult Start, Is Host Family’s Angel

Exchange Student Survives Difficult Start, Is Host Family’s Angel

For our students, coming to live in America is an exciting and thrilling adventure that they know will change their lives. However, they cannot imagine the impact that they will make on their host family. Our Star Student for this month was nominated by her host mom for the profound impact she has left on her host family.

Host parents Terry Hackathorn and Ken Ellis nominated their exchange daughter Rakel for truly surviving and even thriving through a difficult start to her exchange experience. This is Terry’s first year to host an exchange student. As soon as she saw Rakel’s picture and read that she had always wanted to be a cheerleader, Terry knew she could “help this child realize her dream while in America” since Terry’s daughter had been a cheerleader.

Unfortunately, the start to Rakel’s year was trying. Only three weeks after she arrived, Terry had to undergo brain surgery and had six weeks of home healthcare after. Terry said, though, that Rakel “showed more concern for me and my health than her being in the States” and that “she was a sweet and thoughtful young lady.” A few weeks after her brain surgery, Terry’s father had a heart attack and had to undergo surgery as well. After being released from the hospital, he came to live with Terry, Ken, and son Dana. 

Shortly after Terry’s father moved in, he had “literally dropped dead” in front of Terry. Rakel came to lift him out of his chair and followed instructions from 911. Terry’s father survived and doctors stressed that, had Rakel not done what she had to help, he would have died. Terry said that through it all, Rakel “showed such calmness and control. She is our family’s kids still have their pawpaw, my grandson has his great grandfather.”

Through all of the health issues and adjustments, Rakel continued to do well making friends at school and has become like an aunt to Terry’s grandson. She has also been able to participate in cheerleading competitions, fulfilling one of her dreams! The very first competition that she participated, Rakel and her squad won first place and Terry calls her “a natural.” Rakel lost her grandmother two week before Nationals and still pushed on and won that competition as well!

Through all of the health issues and difficult times, Terry has only the highest regards for Rakel:


This beautiful young lady is truly special. She exhibits a moral compass and has good work ethics. She is so selfless and compassionate and understanding. Never complains, has a wonderful sense of humor. She is truly our daughter in our hearts.


Rakel has certainly left a lasting impact on her host family during the time she has been here, and for that we deem her Ayusa’s Star Student of the Month!

If you would like to nominate your Ayusa student as Star Student of the Month, send an explanation about why your student should be selected along with pictures to  at any time throughout the month.