Saturday, July 02, 2011

Bring the World to Your Child by Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student

Guest post by Melanie Vuynovich

If you’ve read the newspaper lately, you know that the world can be a scary place: wars, economic crisis, revolutions, climate change, border disputes, refugees, and protests. So, how do we teach our children about the world, and the variety of people in it, when most of the examples we read about in the press are so negative?

One life-changing way to broaden your child’s world view is to volunteer to host a high school foreign exchange student. Foreign exchange programs have been around for almost 100 years, and their mission has always been the same -- to educate people about different cultures through person-to-person exchange. What better message to pass on to your children?

There are quite a few misconceptions about foreign exchange programs -- especially around who can host. The biggest misconception is that you must have high school aged children when you host a high school exchange student. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We welcome host families of all shapes and sizes -- families with young children, families with no children, empty nesters whose children have left home, single parents and non-traditional families,” says Sherry Carpenter, executive director of Ayusa, a non-profit that promotes global learning and leadership through foreign exchange and study abroad opportunities for high school students. “The key requirements for a host family are to provide a safe and nurturing home environment, genuinely love children, and have a desire to learn more about a different culture.”

Families with young children find that hosting an exchange student provides their children with an especially unique educational experience in the form of an international big brother or sister. Without even realizing it, children learn about different types of people and different cultural traditions.

“We’ve been hosting high school exchange students for 10 years, and the experience has given us a different perspective about many things in our lives,” said Jody Sauls, an Ayusa host mom from Tennessee, who is hosting a high school student from Hong Kong. “My children have learned not to take clean running water or three meals a day for granted, and to be respectful and tolerant of others. My younger daughter recently made the comment that having an exchange student each year is like living in a World Geography lesson. I cannot say enough about how the hosting experience has positively impacted my family.”

Volunteer host families provide foreign exchange students a nurturing environment, three meals a day and a bedroom (either private or shared with a host sibling of the same gender). Each host family and student is supported by a professionally trained community representative who works with the family and student for the entire program. All interested host families must pass a criminal background check and a home visit by an exchange organization.

“In Tunisia, we always hear about Americans and American life style, in movies, media, songs, everything, and I know it is different, and I wanted to figure out this difference myself,” said Asma, a bubbly high school student from Tunisia who spent the 2010-2011 school year living in Anchorage, Alaska.

Foreign exchange students come from all over the world. Ayusa matches host families with students from more than 60 different countries including Argentina, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Lebanon, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia and Turkey. All high school foreign exchange students are fully insured, bring their own spending money, and are proficient in English -- and all high school exchange programs are regulated by the U.S. Department of State.

Interested host families are required to fill out an application, pass a background check and interview with a local exchange program representative in their homes. Once accepted to a program, host families can view profiles of students to find the right match for their family.

“Hosting an exchange student is a life-changing experience -- for the student, the host family, and the host community,” says Carpenter. “There is no better way to teach your children about the world around them than through welcoming an international high school student into your home.”

Ayusa is currently accepting applications for families to host an exchange student for the 2011-2012 school year. For more information about hosting a high school foreign exchange student, please contact Ayusa at 1.888.552.9872 or by visiting the website at


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. All comments are moderated and will go live after approval.