Meet Nacel Open Door Stars, Gary and Nancy!

The Browns and former Host Student Sina Celebrating Octoberfest during a 2018 visit to Germany

Meet Nacel Open Door Stars, Gary and Nancy! NOD is excited to introduce two of our alumni exchange host parents and Nacel Open Door (NOD) Stars, Gary and Nancy, of Eagan, Minnesota! We’re excited to share their family’s story, because it showcases the long-term impact that hosting an international exchange student can have on both the host family and the international student.

Gary and Nancy were intrigued by the idea of hosting a student after a summer tour of Europe in 1994 with Nancy’s family. They noticed a NOD flyer that was posted on their church’s bulletin board seeking host families, and reached out to the Local Representative. Because Gary had the opportunity to travel to Germany for three weeks and participate in a research trip during college, they asked about hosting a German girl the following summer.

In the summer of 1995 Gary and Nancy were matched with 16 year old Sina from Berlin. Sina arrived just after the Independence Day holiday and stayed with their family for a month. Their children, Laura and Matthew, were 12 and 9 years old at the time, and the whole family quickly bonded after the initial adjustment period. Some of the memorable things that were recalled from their initial summer exchange in 1995 included:

  • Sina and Nancy in St. Augustine during the summer of 1995Food was a wonderful vehicle for cultural exchange, including popcorn and what to put on it. When they went to see Apollo 13, Sina was surprised by the butter and salt, because In Berlin she was used to sweet popcorn with powdered sugar.
  • Sina doesn’t like the heat, and thought that coming to Minnesota would be perfect since it’s cool. However, while she was here, Minnesota enjoyed several days of 100 plus degree weather!
  • Sina had studied Abraham Lincoln the year before her trip, and got to travel to Springfield, Illinois with Nancy and tour Lincoln’s home and tomb.
  • A few of Sina’s perceptions about America that stood out were that American’s drive everywhere and we have strict smoking regulations. She also didn’t like that American’s image of Germany were largely lederhosen, brats, beer, and Oom-pah-pah music.
  • At the end of Sina’s stay the family had a family vacation planned to Amelia Island, Florida. Initially they had planned to have Sina stay with another family, but because of their relationship, they invited her to join them for a last hurrah.

It is now 28 years later, and Gary, Nancy and their family continues to have a strong and enduring relationship with Sina and her family in Germany. This includes regular email exchanges about their families and what is happening in the U.S. and Germany, card and gift exchanges, and visits between Germany and the United States. Sina attended the Technische Universitaet Berlin for chemical engineering, she and her partner work for BMW, and they live with their 7-year old daughter in Berlin. She has returned to Minnesota twice, the second with her mother for Matthew’s wedding.

Outside he BMW plant where Sina works in GermanyGary had regular European business trips and would fly to Berlin for the weekend to visit Sina and her family. Gary, Nancy and their family have also been able to visit Germany, and especially love to learn about German cars and bring friends to Oktoberfest. Sina loves to take care of them when they’re in Germany and is able to get tickets and show them things that they would never find on their own. One example is a tour of the Stasi Headquarters during a visit to Berlin, where Gary was able to join a group of British Cold War scholars.

Gary and Nancy are glad they hosted Sina, because they value this important lifelong relationship that they’ve developed. Gary said, “By opening our home to someone, we hope we did our part to expand someone’s view of the U.S. I know that we have destroyed stereotypes for each other.”

Thank you, Gary and Nancy, for being NOD stars and standout U.S. Ambassadors!

Nacel Open Door is grateful to Gary, Nancy, and all of our host families who welcome our students into their homes and make our international student exchanges work so well! To learn more about being a Host Family or Local Representative, and developing these lifelong relationships, visit