International Exchange: Changed our Family
For eight summers our family has had the opportunity of hosting students from different countries and we have loved being a part of the amazing world of being a host family! My girls have been able to experience different cultures and make international friends without ever leaving town. It started with Angel from Taiwan and Iris from Hong Kong and has grown to a total of 16 international daughters. Standing at the arrival party with my own two daughters and husband, we held signs welcoming our new “family members” as we anxiously awaited meeting our first short-term foreign exchange students with Education First (EF).
Being a volunteer host family is an experience I would recommend to everyone! Families with small children, teens or empty nesters can all be great host families for a summer exchange student! The students are so excited to come and be a part of the American experience. You can feel the excitement on arrival day with all the families cheering and waiving signs as the big buses roll in. As we wait, we see the student’s faces all looking out the window to see their new “families”. My girls used to take part in an international pen-pal program and had always loved checking the mailbox to see if they received a letter from a friend on the other side of the world! When we heard about summer exchange students that came in July for just a few weeks, it was the excitement of an international new friend but one they actually could meet in person! We could see our student’s profile, introduction letter, what their parents occupations were and what the student’s hobbies and interests were.
We participated in the academic based program where they have language and culture classes in the morning, and planned activities in the afternoon. They explore our beaches, shop, ice-skate, bowl, bike Sanibel and even line dance! We get to see our community through a fresh perspective. My girls loved going on the afternoon activities with the students and meeting the friends of their host sisters. Evenings and weekends are family time, spent playing games, watching movies, cook-outs with friends and just hanging out and being a part of the family.
For my girls, it was like a three-week slumber party and a great way to end the summer! It was great meeting other host families and seeing the different dynamics of those who hosted! There were singles, grandparents, families who had small children or an only child who loved having a big brother or sister. Many families with teens liked hosting for a fun way of earning community service hours as well as the opportunity to travel over and visit their student in their own country. We had friends who hosted boys from Spain one summer and the following summer their sons were hosted by the families in Spain! We’ve stayed with our student in Paris and one in Barcelona!
Our students have come from Hong Kong, Taiwan, France, Spain, and Austria and they’ve all left a lasting memory in our hearts. We still stay in contact, I get “happy birthday mom” posts on my Facebook page and when my older daughter got married, three students traveled back to be at the wedding! We provided them with a welcoming home, an extra plate at the table and a bed of their own. They provided us with a glimpse into their life, culture, language and just what it’s like being a teen in a different part of the world. Our family gets the opportunity to be ambassadors for our country, share our community and expand our hearts.
The day they leave is the hardest, but the experience enriched our lives like we never expected and will never forget. Although we thought the experience would end when they left, we have the pleasure of hearing their success stories as they graduate, head off to college and sometimes come back for visits. The girls came into our home for a short time, but they stay in our hearts forever!
For anyone looking for a fun “staycation” adventure, wanting to experience hosting an exchange student but nervous for a full school-year commitment, or anyone who is community minded and has a heart for volunteering and an interest in youth and cultures, this is an amazing opportunity! Students from Russia, Spain, Austria, France and China will be in Lee and Collier County this July! They all have insurance, speak English (different levels) and have local staff support.
There are two types of exchange student programs you can participate in based on your family’s lifestyle. The first is the program that the students are gone Monday – Friday, 8-5 for class and activities. This is best for working families, as your days are still free. For families who have a stay-at-home parent, or one that is off during the summer, or an older teen that drives, the immersion program is a great way of your family having more time with the student as they do not have daily classes. Host family requirements are an application and references, meals, a bed (students can share a bedroom with a teen that is within 3 years age range and same gender), transportation to a designated bus stop (for daily classes/activities) and a safe, welcoming environment! To find out more about hosting, visit www.efhomestay.org, or call 239-340-5164.
To find out more about hosting, visit www.efhomestay.org, or call 239-340-5164.