Experiencing the world — no passport necessary

May. 10, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Whether it’s walking among the Egyptian pyramids or soaking in the sun on a beach in Spain, most parents want to give their children a taste of the world. However, the economic reality of international air travel for a family, not to mention hotels, passports and food, can put such experiences out of reach.

But according to Ayusa International, an organization trying to drum up interest locally, hosting a foreign exchange student is an ideal alternative — instantly opening a portal to a distant land.

“Exchange programs are a strong, peace-promoting opportunity,” said Elizabeth Keel, an Ayusa host mom from Fairview, N.C. “Seeing firsthand how other cultures think and choose to behave defeats bigotry, rendering thoughtless cultural generalities meaningless. I am so fortunate to be hosting Yi, my exchange student from China, and to have this wonderful young woman in my life.”

Foreign exchange students come from all over the world, and Ayusa matches host families with students from more than 60 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.

“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,” said Connie Lawrence, community representative for Ayusa, a nonprofit 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.”

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.

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, they 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,” Lawrence said. “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 now accepting applications for families to host an exchange student for the 2014-2015 school year. For more information about hosting a high school foreign exchange student, please contact Connie Lawrence at (919) 552-3647, (919) 612-5013 or clawrence@ayusa.com. Interested families can also learn more at www.ayusa.org.