As exchange student programs reopen, host families sought in area

Host families for foreign exchange students have such an impactful role in an international student’s life, and there are new opportunities becoming available in the Golden Triangle for hosts.

Across the world, there are high school students looking for an opportunity to experience America and all the country has to offer. Families in the Golden Triangle can help give those teenagers the full American experience as a host family for a foreign exchange student.

Many exchange student programs halted because of the pandemic, but now the programs are starting up again as international travel restrictions are lifted. The programs with a presence in the area are looking to find host families before the 2022-23 school year begins, as most programs follow an entire school year.

Rotary International and the Center for Educational Travel, USA, are two of the main organizations in the area that place foreign exchange students with host families, and before the new school year begins, both are looking for host families.

“We accept families, individuals that may not have kids or may have had kids that have left the house, empty nesters, same-sex couples, anybody — we accept and welcome those families,” said Jenny Memmott, the Mississippi regional director of CETUSA. “To be a (host) family, you just really need to express interest. Then the second step is completing an application that does require a background check for anybody who is over 18. There will be a home visit, and we do check references as well. The basic requirements are that you are willing to open your home to a student or more than one student and treat them like one of your own, to have a bed with a frame for the student and to be willing to provide three meals a day and transportation.”

Host families are not required to have children, just the means to support a high school student for a full school year.

The students will attend public school where the host family is zoned for. Students must be fluent in English and have a specific grade point average in order to qualify to be exchange students.

There is no stipend to take on an exchange student, but each student does have their own health insurance, spending money, and travel expenses to and from the United States paid for. It is mostly an opportunity to give an international student a view of American life and an opportunity for the family to learn about another culture.

“At the relationship level, you are really creating and cultivating a relationship that will last forever,” Memmott said. “I think everyone benefits from this. Not only is the student experiencing a life-changing experience, but the family is too. What an interesting way to have a global impact in your local community. A lot of folks maybe don’t have the means or opportunity to do a lot of international traveling but this is a really cool way to see the world through someone else’s lens by bringing the world to you.”

Taylor Salvione is the local coordinator for the Golden Triangle with CETUSA, and she also covers an additional 60-mile radius outside of the area. Salvione works to find host families and be a liaison for all parties involved. This is her first year doing this job, and she is looking forward to the opportunity this provides for the student and family.

“I just think it’s going to be awesome, especially for this area,” Salvione said. “We have so many students, and something for everyone. (Both parties) put their interests and their likes down, so if we have a family that’s really into soccer and also Catholic, the students also post that. I can sort the students out and give them choices.”

Rotary Youth Exchange
Zac Ashmore is both the district officer for the Rotary Youth Exchange and the RYE officer for the Starkville Rotary Club. Because of his district role, he looks to help place students all over the Golden Triangle, not just Starkville. He said the pandemic halted the exchange program due to international travel restrictions and safety for all, but he is ready to get it going again.

“In the past I believe Columbus (Rotary Club) has expressed interest in hosting someone,” Ashmore said. “COVID really put a damper on a lot of the programs, so we are slowly trying to get things back up and going again.”

For the first time since the 2019-20 school year, there will be an exchange student with RYE attending school in Starkville.

“We’re working on bringing an exchange student from Italy this year, and we already have our host family set up,” Ashmore said. “We have a second family set up and ready to go, too. However, it is always nice to have options. … In essence we look for a nice, normal upstanding family. You don’t have to be rich, either.”

The last RYE student Starkville Rotary sponsored was from Italy, and this coming school year’s student will also be from Italy. Due to privacy concerns, students and host families’ information are not given out.

Becoming a host
For those interested in becoming a host family with CETUSA or RYE, Salvione and Ashmore are actively recruiting host families.

Ashmore said RYE hosts do not have to be in Rotary, and he actually likes when families are not in the civic club because it gives the student a non-Rotary contact.

Ashmore can be reached by email at [email protected]

Salvione is recruiting across the GTA, Tupelo and even Tuscaloosa for families, and those interested can reach her by email at [email protected]

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