Here comes another summer. This year, would you love to spend three weeks in a foreign country, but just can’t swing it financially? Like to make those favorite local haunts fresh again by experiencing them with someone new? Want to do something culturally enriching while at the same time giving others incredible memories that will last a lifetime?
Have you ever considered hosting a foreign exchange student?
One summer years ago, my mom heard that a large number of French students were coming to northern New Jersey, and just weeks before their arrival some still didn’t have host families. So on very short notice she signed up, and Helene from Marseilles arrived in early August. Her weekdays were spent in class. But evenings and weekends, Helene hung out at our home with the friends she’d made – Isabelle from Chamonix, whose surgeon-father climbed the Himalayas, and Claude from Fontainebleau, outside Paris.
While their group took them to New York City, we escorted them to the local sights: Jersey Shore, Thomas Edison’s home at Glenmont, Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, and the Great Falls of Paterson -- on a blistering hot day.
The animated dinner conversation was a mix of mediocre high-school French and shaky high-school English that was honed and perfected over time (that is, their English – not our French). It was a summer I still vividly remember, and it led me to visit France multiple times as an adult – including the three weeks of my honeymoon.
So when my husband, our 16-year-old daughter and I stumbled upon the EF Language Travel booth at the Downtown West Orange Street Fair some weeks ago, it didn’t take much to convince us to sign on as a host family for July.
Since then, I’ve learned of the urgent need for a lot more host families this summer.
As background, EF Language Travel is a non-profit division of EF Education First that has arranged escorted group travel for over 140,000 international students since 1979.
Pierre Sapinault, an alumnus of the EF program who now works for the organization, was sent over here from France explicitly to recruit families for the overwhelming number of foreign students who have signed up for Summer 2012.
He explained, “Our program provides the unique experience of living with a host family while participating in structured English language and cultural courses. Students, ages 14 to 17, are taught by qualified instructors using EF's own curriculum and textbooks at St. Elizabeth's College in Morristown. Students also participate in special academic field trips, group discussions and organized afternoon activities.”
There are two three-week sessions: 160 students from Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and France will visit July 4–23; and 190 students from those countries and China will arrive on August 1 and stay through August 20.
According to Sapinault, host families can select the country of their student and accept up to four students in one session. Students may share bedrooms and bathrooms with host family siblings, but must have their own bed. In addition, families provide three meals a day, linens and laundry, and transportation to a local drop-off and pick-up site in the morning and late afternoon.
“Our host families come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. “They may be two-parent or single-parent households, of any age, and can have children of any age or no children at all. We just ask that you spend some time with the students and make them feel welcome.”
Host families receive a stipend of $300 per student per session and can earn a $25 referral bonus for each family they recommend that hosts a student. And EF provides local support staff to help families 24/7, including an orientation meeting a week or so before the students arrive. Families will receive information and a photo of their student with an e-mail address so they can communicate prior to their arrival.
Another bonus of participating in the program, said Sapinault, is the life-long connection you can make with someone in another country. As a teen, Pierre stayed with families in Sacramento, California, and Redmond, Washington, and he said it was a truly wonderful experience that has changed his life. He’s since visited his host families – and they have visited him in France – more than once. It’s one of the selling points that motivated my daughter to offer to share her bedroom for three weeks.
So if you’re up to hosting a foreign student and giving the teenager and your family a summer to remember, please check out the EF Travel website or contact Pierre Sapinault at Pierre.Sapinault@EF.com. It’s the opportunity to share what you know and love in your world with another – as EF says to “foster international understanding through cultural exchange.”