The Jean family and Kostelidis family have a long history of friendship, starting back in the late 1980s when Phil Jean, right, and Norman Kostelidis, left, met while Norman was an exchange student from Germany attending Saint Dominic Regional High School in Lewiston. They kept in touch over the years and recently Norman’s son, Konrad, sitting, joined the Jean family as an exchange student while he attended Scarborough High School this past year. The families recently got together in Scarborough, where the Jeans live. From left to right are Norman Kostelidis, his mother Brigitte Kostelidis, Phil’s daughter Kat, Konrad, Phil’s wife Hilary, and Phil. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — It was 1987 when Norman Kostelidis, a German high school student, spent a year as an exchange student in Maine. Little did he know that almost four decades later, his son, Konrad, would do the same, thanks to a special St. Dominic Regional High School friendship that thrives to this day.

“My dad inspired me. He wanted to see what doors were open for him,” says Konrad Kostelidis, a 16-year-old high school sophomore from Germany who just finished his year as an exchange student at Scarborough High School.

For the Kostelidises, it all began 36 years ago when Norman Kostelidis was accepted as a West German exchange student in America and arrived in Lewiston. He initially enrolled at Lewiston High School. But he struggled to adjust to his first host family, an experience common among exchange students.

He sought the help of his new friends at Lewiston High School and it was suggested that he find another host family. A Lewiston friend, Eric Douglas, introduced Norman to Dr. Jon and Kathleen “Kathy” Pitman. Soon, they welcomed Norman to their home.

“The Pitmans always had a full house,” Norman recalls. Their children had attended St. Dominic’s. They knew many people at the school. It made sense for Norman to transfer from Lewiston High to St. Dominic’s for the rest of his exchange year. And there, he met Philip “Phil” Jean, his soon-to-be best friend for years to come.

Son Konrad has heard the story many times. “They were in a few classes together; Phil was over at the Pitmans’ many times. They both thought ‘Oh, what a nice guy,’ and became best friends,” he says.


“We had very similar interests and a shared circle of friends,” recalls Phil, who now lives — that’s right — in Scarborough.

Soon after becoming friends, Phil and Norman’s senior year of high school began filling up with trips and adventures in Maine.

The two friends parted ways in 1988 following their graduation. Norman returned to Germany to study hotel management and to take over his family business of Greek restaurants in Bremen. Phil went to the University of Maine, Orono, for a business degree. Later, he received his master’s degree in health care administration from Husson University.

Norman Kostelidis graduates from St. Dominic’s Regional High School in Lewiston as seen on the front page of The Lewiston Daily Sun on June 4, 1988.

The two friends stayed in touch and witnessed each other’s life changes through postcards, letters, phone calls, and visits every few years.

In the early years, communication was far and few between. “There were some periods of time in our earlier years where, through marriages and careers, there were some blanks from time to time,” Phil remembers.

International phone calls were expensive. “Calling (US) from Germany would cost around 3 to 4 dollars a minute,” Norman recalls. Later, Facebook, Skype and then Zoom made it easier for them to stay in touch.


Norman not only forged a long-lasting friendship at his American host family’s house, but proposed to his wife there too.

In early 2005, Norman was visiting the Pitmans with his then-girlfriend, Svetlana.

“It was winter; all snowy outside. Dad asked my mom to sit outside on the stairs with him. That’s when he asked her to be his wife, so they got engaged here,” Konrad says.

Thirty-six years later, all relationships built there still run strong.

“Norman and I are like brothers, as well as friends,” Phil says.

In October 2022, Konrad and Norman were in Maine to pay a visit to the Jean family. It had been a long while with no visits since the pandemic.


Konrad remembers the excited conversations between his classmates back home in Germany, all trying to decide whether or not to spend a year abroad in the States.

“We mentioned it to Phil and his family. I think it was on the last day we were here. I won’t ever forget it. They said, ‘Konrad, you can live with us for a year and we can be your family.'”

Konrad was thrilled to follow his dad’s steps in Maine a few decades after him.

However, the requirements for exchange student visas had changed significantly in the years after Norman’s time.

At first, the family wanted to apply to Scarborough High School and seek a student visa for Konrad on their own. Scarborough High School informed them that they could only work with an accredited exchange organization.

Konrad applied online through an organization in Berlin. It proved to be a close call because only one space was left at Scarborough High School.


“It was a lot of paperwork. I also had to get a few vaccinations so we had to move quickly,” Konrad says. Although the families had known each other for years, the host family had to go through a background check.

Luckily, Konrad made it just in time.

“It was a very easy transition to have him come live with us. He knew us very well. But some of the typical rules were perhaps a bit odd to us,” Phil says. “For example, exchange programs usually require that the host family authorize the family’s visits to see their child. It felt a little bit funny for me to give Norman permission to come see his son. Otherwise, (onboarding) is a very fluid process.”

Once he had settled in, Konrad was able to pick his own schedule at Scarborough High School. “I was quite happy because I could really choose what I wanted to choose. In Germany, it’s a bit like a cage. You have limited options,” Konrad said.

Exchange student Konrad Kostelidis, middle, stands with “my two dads” on the shore in Scarborough last week. Konrad’s real dad, Norman, is left, and his host dad, Phil Jean, is right. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In the months since his arrival, Konrad has travelled extensively, trying to soak up the experience as best as he can. His favorite memory was a surprise road trip to Québec City on New Year’s Eve. Phil and his wife, Hilary, organized the trip to surprise their daughter Kat and Konrad.

Konrad believes friendships are one of his biggest takeaways from his time in Maine.


“People started to become interested. They wanted to know why I was here and what were the differences back home,” he said. “They wanted to learn a bit more about my language. And that started around one or two weeks after I had my first day of school. You know, (I was) a new kid. I didn’t know anybody except for Katie and we weren’t in any classes together.”

There is another exchange student among his many Scarborough friends — Julia, a junior from Austria.

“We can talk in German. She just doesn’t put on her dialect (so I can understand her.) We would be so lost without each other. We’re very happy that we could exchange how our lives and families are back home,” he says.

Konrad is positive that some of his friendships made here are going to last a lifetime, just like Phil and Norman’s.

Looking back as a former exchange student and now a parent to one, Norman believes the experience is a chance to make once-in-a-lifetime connections.

“Every kid that goes abroad and every family that hosts a kid has the chance to make lifelong relationships. And it’s not like a relationship with your next-door neighbor, but a worldwide connection. It opens up your mind,” Kostelidis says.

While exchange year friendships can be life-changing for students, host families benefit in many ways too.

To Phil, Konrad feels like an extension of his family. “While he’s not our biological son, given my connection with Norman and his time with us, I feel like he is like our son,” Phil says. “I liken his departure to sending our first kid to college. He’s definitely rounded out our family,” he continues. “He’s an only child. My daughter’s an only child. They both have now become lifelong siblings.”

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