Exchange participation encouraged

PARKERSBURG – Foreign exchange student programs are seeking host families for the fall semester and beyond, coordinators said.

Education First High School Exchange Year is seeking host families throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley for foreign exchange students from a variety of nations, said Mid-Ohio Valley Coordinator Anne Claire Schaad-Tans.

Education First High School Exchange Year is a non-profit organization that matches exchange students with host families who share the same interests, Schaad-Tans said. The organization’s primary objective is to make certain the exchange students have the best year they can in America, she said.

Schaad-Tans, 26, recently decided to become a coordinator for Education First. Her decision was based on her own exchange student experience in high school, where she spent a year in Arizona, she said.

That exchange student year prompted Schaad-Tans to attend Ohio Valley University, and she stayed after graduation rather than returning to her native Netherlands, she said.

“If not for my exchange year, I wouldn’t have become who I am or what I am now,” Schaad-Tans said.

Exchange families are volunteers who provide shelter, meals and reasonable transportation to the exchange student they agree to host, Schaad-Tans said. Students can come for either six months or one-year stays, starting in August or January.

Exchange families come in many forms, Schaad-Tans said. Education First accepts traditional and non-traditional families, including those with children, without children, single-parent homes, homes of single residents without children, as well as gay individuals and couples, she said. The only restriction is that someone in the family must be at least 25 years old.

“If you can think of a combination, Education First will consider them as a host family,” Schaad-Tans said.

Host families undergo a no-cost screening process which includes a background check on every person in the home who is 18 or older, Schaad-Tans said. The family must have a clean criminal background.

Schaad-Tans does not see the results of the background checks herself, she said. Those results are sent to the regional office.

The family’s home will be inspected by Schaad-Tans during the interview process, she said. The in-home interview makes certain the house is generally well-kept, although it doesn’t have to be spotless, she said. There must be a bed for the exchange student, as well as a place for them to do their homework. Exchange students may share a room with one other host-sibling of the same gender who is 12 or older, but otherwise must have their own room, Schaad-Tans said.

The family may specify the gender of the exchange student they wish to host, as well as the home country, Schaad-Tans said. Families may even visit the Education First website at www.efexchangeyear.org and select students they are interested in hosting based on the student’s profile, she said.

Education First had students from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Thailand listed on its website in early July.

The only restriction as to the exchange student’s nationality is that an American family who is naturally from a different country must speak English as their primary language in the home and may not host a student from their native country, Schaad-Tans said.

A family may host two exchange students at the same time, but those students may not be from the same country, he added.

“Students come here to experience American culture,” Schaad-Tans said.

Families are expected to interact with the student and draw them into family affairs and the traditions of America, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, Schaad-Tans said.

Families will only be responsible for providing meals and reasonable transportation to the exchange student they host, Schaad-Tans said. The student will bring all of their spending money with them, including money for school trips and shopping. Students will bring their own clothing, cell phones, and medical insurance with them as well, she said.

In the event that an exchange student becomes sick, all out-of-pocket costs will be the responsibility of the student and the student’s natural family, Schaad-Tans said.