A whole new world: Host families wanted for exchange students | Local

Immersing oneself into another culture, for however brief a time, is something many strive for, for the sake of just having experienced something different or to truly learn about and embrace another lifestyle.

That immersion is what Tiffany Hunt, international exchange coordinator for EF Education First, wants to bring to as many people as she can. That is why she is looking for host families in the Columbus area for exchange students.

“What I’m trying to do for the community is bring high schoolers from different countries into the area to bring other experiences to families and to our schools to enlighten one another, accept differences and learn from each other,” Hunt said.

Hunt taught internationally in Bangkok, Thailand, shortly after graduating college, which made her want to share that experience with others.

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“In this day and age, it’s not practical for everyone to leave and experience the world. This brings that knowledge, broadens your experience and widens perspectives in a much more effective way,” Hunt said.

Reye Snitily and her husband Ernie, of Columbus, hosted a young woman from Denmark named Malene in 2013 after Reye’s coworker had an exchange student lined up to come with nowhere to stay.

We were empty nesters, our boys had moved out, this was a girl, I thought this would be something different for me,” Snitily said.

Snitily added that right off the bat, she learned more than she expected to.

“I was a mom of boys and girls are very different. I learned about selfies, she was taking pictures of herself and I thought that was sort of odd at first,” Snitily said. “She was a very funny girl and made us laugh a lot, we really enjoyed her.”

Snitily said that in hosting Malene, she learned a lot about Denmark and she and Ernie even went to Denmark after Malene returned, for Malene’s graduation.

Their graduation is like our final exams. The kids take tests, and their families wait at the school to see if they pass. If they pass, they get a white cap, like a sailor’s cap,” Snitily said.

She added that as they traveled Denmark, students dressed in all-white with the caps could be seen picnicking with their families.

“It was really neat to see that tradition. That’s part of the experience, in a very natural way, learning about things you normally wouldn’t, in learning about the kiddo,” Snitily said.

Snitily said that beyond the cultural experience, hosting Malene was personally gratifying for her nurturing demeanor and taught her to step out of her comfort zone and learn.

“Ten years ago, I was the common American who lived in a bubble. We think everyone does things the same way, but then you get out and see they’re different,” Snitily said. “Caring brings you out of that bubble, going to another country and being with another family.”

The process to host a student is fairy simple, Hunt said. Applicants sign up for the program, fill out an application and go through a screening process, and are then able to select a candidate who matches their lifestyle.

“We do our best to find a perfect match, some students are bookworms, some are very active in sports, some love performing arts, some are a Jack-of-all-trades. EF does a good job of finding students wo are eager,” Hunt said.

Many of the students come from Europe and Southeast Asia, Hunt added, though there are many countries EF works with, and many of them would not get to travel internationally otherwise.

It’s about making opportunities, especially in this community. So many of these youth come from poverty and these opportunities wouldn’t be possible unless we brought them into the community and embraced them,” Hunt said.

Snitily said she has now hosted two exchange students, Malene and a student from Brazil through the Rotary Club, and she and her husband are currently waiting on their third student. They remain in contact with Malene now, almost nine years after hosting her.

“We keep corresponding and thought it was good to keep up. I think they (students) want to reach out and have an international focus. Each one we’ve had has articulated that,” Snitily said.

Snitily added that the cost, time and money-wise of hosting is minimal compared to what host families learn and experience with the students.

People wonder how much work it is and yeah, you’re taking them to school, helping them with life, you have to pay for school lunches, but it’s not a huge burden,” Snitily said. “What you get from it is so much more.”

For more information about cultural exchange, visit efexchange.org/iec/tiffany-hunt or call 308-520-1169.

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