The Living Magazines

Hyde Park Living .....Hyde Park, Oakley, Mt. Lookout, O'Bryonville and East Walnut Hills
Wyoming Living
Indian Hill Living
Fort Thomas Living

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Local Family Grows an International “Forever Family”

By Grace DeGregorio

Technology certainly has made the world much smaller, connecting diverse people who otherwise never would have met each other.  But even before tech came on the scene, student exchange programs created international bridges.

The exchange students with the Koenigs -  Front row: Sally Capp (the Lord Mayor of Melbourne), Australia; Myron Koenig, Helen Koenig and their daughter Susanna Goering; Back row: son Ed Koenig, Francesco Costi (Italy) amd Damien Franc (France)
Myron and Helen Koenig of Hyde Park had done some traveling and were struck by “how well we were treated by people in other countries.” Their son Ed says when he was 13 and a student at the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), “My parents suggested a life changing experience - Children’s International Summer Villages [today known as CISV International].”  Ed went for the summer in 1983 to Lyon, France with nine other Americans paired up with French families. He says he didn’t speak French, but made friends, just the same.  “I remember they threw me into a fountain in Lyons!”

Myron and Helen Koenig of Hyde Park couldn’t have known they were creating an international family when they welcomed exchange teens from France, Australia and Italy back in the 1980s.  In subsequent years, as the young folks grew to have their own children, so did the bonds they forged grow.  From their three continents, they have kept in touch regularly, visiting and meeting every few years for a reunion - their most recent, in 2018 in Italy..
The Koenigs themselves welcomed three international teens: Damien Franc from France in the summer of 1984, Sally Capp from Australia 1984-85 and Francesco Costi from Italy 1987-88.  Both Ed and his sister Susanna, were happy to share their home and learn about the cultures brought by their new “siblings” while showing them what America was all about.

“We did things like go to Kings Island, Coney Island and Reds games,” recalls Ed.  “And we just hung out and played guitar in the basement.”

While Susanna was a student at Walnut Hills, the Koenigs were asked to host Sally, who attended Walnut Hills High School with her.  Susanna says, “I was not part of an official exchange, but I did visit France later, where Damien took me and my friend Shelly around the country.” 

Lise (Damien’s daughter from France) and the Goering family - Andrew, Eric Susannah, Lily and (front) Sam. Lise, has stayed with the family multiple times. 
Helen remembers Francesco, who attended SCPA with Ed and now is an artist-sculptor in Venice working as an art restorer, spoke no English when he arrived from Italy.  “I put stickers with the proper names on things around the house for him to learn what they were called.  By the time he left the U.S., he had gotten an ‘A’ in English!

“All the exchange kids call us ‘Mom and Dad!’ We’ve kept in touch, and all now have families.”  This next generation became an integral part of the “international family” forged when their parents came to America and lived with the Koenigs.

“It’s like a tree was planted - you can’t imagine how many branches came from it!” describes Ed.  “Our experience has had tentacles reaching far,” agrees Myron. 

Nurturing their relationship over the years has taken many forms, from visits back and forth to regularly organized family reunions.  Myron explains, The first ‘Koenig International Family Reunion’ was held in Cincinnati in 2005. The second was in Lyon, France in 2011. The third was held in Orvieto Italy, the first week of July, 2018. There are tentative plans ‘in the works’ for a fourth reunion to be held in Cincinnati and Norris Lake, for the summer of 2020.”

The Goering kids with Lise, during one of her visits taking in a Reds game.
There also have been some surprising - and touching - moments.  “Damien came to visit several summers and got close with me and my friends,” shares Susanna.  “When I was planning my wedding, my friends chipped in to pay for Damien to fly here to attend!”  Damien also surprised Ed at his birthday.

Susanna celebrated a significant birthday during the reunion in Italy.  Ed’s significant other Molly put together a book with all the “family” contributing.  Damien, who now has three children of his own, wrote a moving passage about the international relationship: “It was as if, by magic, the same love entered all of them.”

While meeting with the Koenigs, this writer got a surprise of her own - through the miracle of that technology mentioned earlier, Susanna’s daughter Lily Goering, a sophomore at St. Ursula Academy, contacted Sally Capp in Australia with Facetime.  Sally now is the first woman Lord Mayor of Melbourne (a position analogous to Mayor of Cincinnati).  When reached, she and her sister Georgie were being driven to view the Melbourne Cup (similar to the Kentucky Derby -  fancy hats and all!).  Sally shared warm pleasantries with the Koenigs before graciously taking a few minutes to share her thoughts about her exchange experience.

“What a special time 1984-1985 was when I was matched with the Koenigs by AFS [American Field Service]!  They couldn’t have gotten it more right for me.  It all was built on love.”

The Koenigs’ relationship with Sally truly is familial.  She shared, “My son Will, who is studying at Yale, will spend Thanksgiving with the Koenigs.”

All three of Damien’s children (Robin, Coline and Lise) have spent time in Cincinnati.  Susanna’s son Andrew and Lily went to France in 2014; younger son Sam is going to France this summer. Lily has become particularly close to Damien’s daughter Lise who attended Clark Montessori with Lily during one of her three visits to Cincinnati.  Lily says, “We designed a guest room in our house to be ‘Lise’s room.’ I call her ‘my sister’ - she is the reason why I studied French at St. Ursula.  She says she wants to come to college in Cincinnati.

“I am so lucky to have grown up understanding other cultures, and am even more lucky to tell my friends how I have cousins all over the world! My grandparents are the nicest people I have ever met, and I hope that I become exactly like them. 

The first generation of exchange families now have kids - and here they are all together!
“I have traveled to Australia, France, multiple times, and Italy - all because of the exchange program. Without my grandparents welcoming exchange students into their house when my mom was younger, I bet I wouldn’t have traveled to half the places I have today.  Being able to travel and learn other cultures has made me want to help the world.”

Myron and Helen strongly believe their experience, when duplicated, could make a huge difference globally.  “What a wonderful legacy we’ve been fortunate to create!  We want to share with other families how valuable it’s been,” says Myron who adds, “Our niece wrote a paper ‘I met the world in Cincinnati’ based on knowing our international families!

“Orvieto was a high point of our life - it illustrated a step toward creating international understanding.”

Susanna points out, “One thing said by everyone in Orvieto is Helen and Myron promoted positive international relations.”  

“Student exchange is like getting a Master’s degree before going to college,” observes Myron.  “It’s a different experience that includes languages, schools, family life, etc.

The Koenig family loves its international family!  Seated:  Helen and Myron with granddaughter Lily; Standing:  Ed, Molly and Susanna
The Koenigs have become very active with the exchange program AFS (American Field Service). Myron says, “AFS is a little different because it has a strong volunteer organization. You can bet on good quality back-up.”

“Recent studies show it is beneficial for those wanting an exchange experience to be affiliated with formal exchange programs, especially those who may have medical or other concerns,” says Ed.  “We’ve met people from South Africa, Egypt, Peru, Iceland, Tunisia, Australia, Japan, Austria - all over - from counseling kids from AFS.”

“The Friends of Greater Cincinnati AFS” established a scholarship fund for students wishing to study abroad with AFS. The scholarships are awarded to students applying for a full year program (not summer or semester experiences).  These funds may be combined with other AFS scholarships. “Single or minority parents especially may find the scholarship program helpful,” says Myron.

Applications are accepted from prospective AFS students who live in Cincinnati, Hamilton, Oxford and northern Kentucky, including cities and their surrounding areas as far south as greater Louisville and Lexington.  Students must have strong academic and interpersonal skills and demonstrate a financial need.

To learn more about possibilities for scholarship help through "The Friends of Greater Cincinnati AFS", call Myron Koenig, 513-321-0165.

Anyone interested in hosting or sending candidates abroad through AFS can learn more by calling Barbara McManus at 513-218-6372.  You also may visit the AFS website at

No comments:

Post a Comment