One of the exciting experiences available to high school students and their families is the opportunity to participate in student exchange programs. And a key element of each program is the volunteer host homes that invite these students to experience each country as part of a family.
For Russel and Jody Hill of Ashland, the decision to host an exchange student rose out of Jody's past experiences with these programs. "I grew up with exchange students. They were all wonderful and added a better understanding of foreign cultures. I decided it would be fun to host an exchange student so our children would have the same experience."
If your family is interested in being a host family for an exchange student, or a family member is interested in participating in an exchange program, here are some resources to find more information:
There are 12 Rotary clubs in the Rogue Valley.
Each site has frequently asked questions, program and contact information, as well as the qualifications and expectations for their student participants. A student exchange stay can be a unique opportunity for students and host families alike.
It's a simple process, says Jason Stranberg, project manager for Adroit Construction and Ashland Rotary member. "If a family would like to host an exchange student, I would advise them to contact their local [Rotary] club." "Many service clubs like the 4-H, Kiwanis or Rotary have exchange student programs," adds Jody, and there are a variety of international organizations as well (see sidebar). The Hills signed up for information on the Web and from there, Jody admits, their experience became "atypical."
"Every organization I've ever heard of gives prospective parents a list of available students with detailed fact sheets that show academics, country of origin, family life, student hobbies and interests, a picture of the student, and usually a short introduction essay by the student," says Jody. "Often there is time to exchange a couple of letters with the student prior to their arrival in the U.S. so they get to know their host family." But when a local host family had to back out on short notice, the Hills had one week to make their decision.
Typically, exchange students split their school year up between 3 or 4 families, explains Stranberg, so each family will have the exchange student for approximately 3 to 4 months in a one-year program. "For the safety of all students, there is a background check required (which is a new part of the process beginning last year), and it's preferred that host families have a child attending the same high school as the exchange student would be," explains Stranberg.
Before traveling, exchange students must meet minimum grade requirements as well as displaying the language skills and maturity to adjust to a new culture. Host families are asked to include the student in the daily routine of the family. The Hills' Japanese exchange student attended Ashland High School and participated in ESL (English as a second language) classes. But, says Russel, "Rural life was not for him." Jody agrees. "Sota was a city boy. We lived on a small farm. The bugs, animal mess and chores, distance from friends, and lack of easy transportation to town were a shock for him."
It should be noted that while host families provide room and board, they are not required to cover the student's travel expenses, medical insurance, exchange visa or spending money. These expenses are covered either by the student's natural parents or by the program sponsor. Stranberg adds "[Rotary] also will assist the students with small fundraising events to generate some added funds for various extra curricular activities like ski club or debate travel events."
Hosting an exchange student can be a time of adventure, of learning and of appreciating a diversity of cultures. "Usually you can choose a student who fits best with your lifestyle and interests," reminds Jody. But even with their unusual start, the Hills saw Sota make progress. His English became fluent and he adjusted to their more rural life. "Though he never truly got used to the animals and their messes," says Jody.