[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen sophomore Greta Scheidt first welcomed French foreign exchange student senior Marine Carron into her home, she wasn’t sure if their personalities would click or how difficult the language barrier would be.
Now, after the two have spent more than three months together, Scheidt said everything has been perfect. Caron is an exchange student through the Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) program. Scheidt heard about this program through her Spanish teacher, Krisleen Arthur. Arthur told Scheidt and the rest of her class about a French foreign exchange student who would be coming that still needed two host families. After getting excited about the idea of hosting someone from another country and seeing what the RYE would be like, Scheidt said she convinced her parents to apply to host.
“I would definitely recommend hosting with [the Rotary Youth Exchange program] to anyone,” Scheidt said. “It is an amazing experience that allows you to learn more about another culture and part of the world as well as create a lifelong relationship.”
The local Rotary group is Rotary District 6080, which covers mid-Missouri. Additionally, there are individual clubs who sponsor outbound exchange students and host inbound students. There is also a district committee to oversee the exchange program. Individual clubs in communities and the members of the district committee cover publicizing the youth exchange, Rotary Outbound coordinator Julia Prullage said. The Rotary encourages families to become hosts, and students to go exchange in hopes of promoting international understanding, goodwill and peace.[quote]“Host families have a chance to share their families’ traditions, culture and values with an exchange student,” Prullage said. “In return, the exchange student has the chance to share their culture, values and family traditions here with their host families and with the community. Our hope [is] that each side can be an ambassador for their country and to build bridges to promote peace.”[/quote]
For U.S. students who feel that going on an exchange may not be right for them, hosting can be a good solution, Prullage said. An example of such a scenario is Schiedt, who said she got really interested about the idea of traveling abroad but was not sure if she was ready to actually study for a year in another country.
Scheidt said she was already pretty used to sharing things and living with another person because she has a brother, so the transition wasn’t very difficult. Because the personalities fit really well together, Scheidt said she didn’t have to do much adjusting. As for preparation, Scheidt explains she didn’t really do all that much except prepare Carron’s room and go over all the rules the Rotary provides. Additionally, she said her family just tried to think of things that could possibly be different with a new member in the house to be prepared.
“To become a host family, Rotary District 6080 has to follow the guidelines set out by the United States Department of State and Rotary International along with the South Central Rotary Youth Exchange,” Prullage said. “All host families must submit host family application that details family members, pets and expectations. All members of the family who are over the age of 18 during the hosting period must submit a volunteer application and undergo a criminal background and reference check.”
Initial home inspections follow, and host family orientations explain the rules that students are expected to follow. Additionally, topics such as safety and youth protection, ideas of culture shock and homesickness and how to welcome a student from another culture into their home are covered, Prullage said.
In Carron’s case, she will be staying with a three families and has spent time with two so far. She said both families made her signs welcoming her into their family. With the Scheidts, Carron said she went to a ballet and to Colorado. She is also traveling to Florida with them. She said she appreciates the ways her host families have made her happy, including making crepes, French bread and having cheese together. Additionally, FaceTiming Carron’s parents back home and introducing them to her hosts was a good way to ease into the transition.[quote]“I never felt outside of the family and [the Scheidt’s] didn’t [show any] differences between me and their kids,” Carron said. “It was funny to translate [on FaceTime] but I really [appreciated the] moment. I came [to the United States] with one family and now I have three.”[/quote]
Depending on several factors, the certifying and vetting of the host family usually takes about two weeks, Prullage said. Afterwords, the second home inspection takes place after the student has been in the home, but before 60 days has gone by.
For junior Isaac Parrish, since his family had experience taking care of foster children, he figured they would be up for the experience. Like Scheidt, Parrish, who hosted a Japanese exchange student, said the RYE Program sounded like a neat opportunity.
“I would definitely recommend signing up,” Parrish said. “We learned a lot about Japanese culture from it, and it felt like a sort of adventure providing the ‘American experience’ for the student, taking him places he had never been and introducing him to food he had never tried.”
Although Prullage said the experience is different for each student as each person is a unique individual, it can be challenging when considering language and cultural barriers and homesickness. However, the rewards are equally awesome, Prullage said.
“Some of the benefits for the host family is to mentor a student and participate in the growth of their awakening to a larger world than what they new when they started their exchange,” Prullage said. “You have the chance to share the students’ success and watch them achieve independence, confidence and broader understanding of the world. It is like receiving a gift of another child as a teenager in your home. You have the chance to reevaluate what is important when you try to explain it to someone new to your family.”
Having had two foster brothers in the past, Parrish said he already knew what he was getting into when he agreed to open a room up to someone outside the family. Nonetheless, it was a new experience for him to live with someone his own age, Parrish said.[quote]“I could more easily relate with him when it came to things like high school and other teenage things, since my siblings still aren’t out of middle school yet,” Parrish said. “He was very friendly and respectful toward everybody while he was here, and my friends and I can all agree we miss hanging out with him.”[/quote]
Some of the characteristics that are important when selecting a host is a willingness to open both the home and family to the exchange student, Prullage said. The host families can be married with teenagers or young children in the home. Additionally, they can be single adults or even couples without any children in the house.
“We expect host families to treat each other and anyone in the home with respect and dignity. Host families need to be able to clearly explain their [family’s] expectations of all members,” Prullage said. “Above all, host families and exchange students need to have patience and understanding with a good measure of humor.”
Through the experience, Parrish said nothing necessarily life-changing happened, but learning about entertaining little things along the way definitely made it more enjoyable. For example, he noticed how some Japanese people like to put seafood and mayonnaise on their pizza, which Parrish found surprisingly good, or how a lot of them often sit with their legs crossed when they eat.
“It was fun just being able to become a friend of theirs and become a part of his experience while he was here,” Parrish said. “Becoming a host guarantees learning more about the world and can give you a new perspective for America and the things we may take for granted that foreigners would’ve never experienced.”
Would you consider being a host for an exchange student? Let us know in the comments below.