Each year students from around the world are matched with local families to participate in a year of cultural exchange, spending a year learning what it means to be an American high school student while bringing some of their own culture to their host community. Right now, volunteers from the American Field Service Intercultural Programs are seeking host families for the next school year.
Marlaine Boyd, AFS volunteer and Blue Springs teacher, said the Blue Springs district is still looking for at least seven families, four to host students at Blue Springs South High School and three for Blue Springs High School.
Having opened up her own home several times in the past, Boyd said the program has enriched her life in ways she couldn’t have imagined, and she encouraged other families to consider taking part. That is, if they are up to the challenge and responsibility.
“One of my first questions is, why do you want to host?” Boyd said, explaining that host parents need to make sure they are getting involved for the right reasons and have the right qualifications before starting the extensive application process. She said families must be open-minded enough to receive someone who brings with them various habits and behaviors from another culture they may not be familiar with.
“Really, they have to have a passion for teenagers and other cultures,” Boyd said.
Potential host families must complete a background check and show they are able to financially support an additional teenager. They must also complete an in-home interview with everyone who will be present during the student’s 11-month stay.
“That way we don’t have unrealistic expectations and everyone in the family is on board with it,” said Boyd.
Additionally, Boyd said host families should have a passion to promote peace between countries. Accepting an exchange student into one’s home, according to Boyd, is a way to change others’ views of a country they are unfamiliar with.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes that run rampant around our world, and this is one way to stamp those out,” she said.
Boyd gave the example of a current exchange student from Pakistan, who she’s seen challenge others in their view of Middle Eastern countries.
“She’s wonderful.” Boyd said. “I can’t wait to stay in touch with her and see what she does with her life because she’s defying the odds every day that she’s over here.”
For those who are a match for an exchange student, Boyd said the program is life changing.
“I think you can’t possibly understand how amazing it is until you do it,” she said. “It’s made our family huge. I have people I consider my family all over the world.”
Boyd said her family has hosted a total of eight times, and most of the children she’s welcomed keep in contact, and often visit in person over the holidays. During their stay as students, she said the exchange students enable her birth children to learn and grow from the experience, exposing them to new ideas and letting them see their local world through new eyes.
“I can’t financially take my kids around the world to teach them about every culture, but they are pretty knowledgeable on at least eight countries now because I’ve kind of brought the world to them,” she said.
The foreign students who participate in the program come from a wide variety of countries and have excellent English language proficiency. Boyd explained the students coming to the country often do so after their own thorough application.
“Some of these students are literally chosen by their governments to promote peace,” Boyd explained. “They are chosen not because their parents are willing to pay for this expensive year; they are chosen because they have gone through a very rigorous process.”
Each student is selected based on an ability to be flexible and respond to uncomfortable or awkward situations, representing one’s country and promoting strong relations.
Families interested in hosting an exchange student can visit the AFS website, www.afsusa.org to apply.
“I really feel,” Boyd said, “like we’re making this planet a better place every time we bring a kiddo into this country and learn more.”