After canceling the student foreign exchange program last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the American Cultural Exchange Service will be bringing 30 foreign exchange students to Redding this year.
In total, there are approximately 170 students coming to the United States, 75 of them will be coming to California. But only 32 have been placed in homes so far, said Jessica French, who lives in Palo Cedro and is the regional director for the West Coast program.
Students will be coming from Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, Albania, Pakistan, and Georgia, to learn what it’s like to be an American teenager and share their culture with the community, said French.
‘So much to gain’
Shahna Gamble, an American Cultural Exchange Service host parent, has hosted eight foreign exchange students in Redding. She just relocated to Phoenix, Arizona and is taking time off from hosting this year. However, she said the experience has enriched her life and the life of her family.
She loved sharing her community with the students and learning about their cultures, she said.
“We’ve also liked to expose our kids to other cultures and educate them about the diversity of it and give them an appreciation for the life that they have. I really think that there’s so much to gain from it, life long relationships you can gain, making a serious impact in a child’s life,” Gamble said.
Out of the 30 students coming to Redding, 10 still need host families and French is looking for candidates. These students are coming as scholarship recipients of the United States State Department’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, French said. The scholarship is highly competitive.
Coming to the United States
The foreign exchange students are chosen for their ability to be future leaders in their country, and apart from good academics, are civic-minded and serve in their community, she said.
“A student is more likely to be accepted to Yale than to be given this scholarship,” she said.
Any two-person household can qualify to be a host family, French said, as long as they pass a background check, don’t receive needs-based government assistance, and can provide the student with a bed and a place to put their belongings, three meals a day and transportation to and from school.
“They come expecting to be part of the family and follow the rules of the American family,” she said. “We are moving forward very hopeful that everything will be back to normal and our schools will remain supportive of an exchange program.”
Before enrolling in school
In previous years, schools have accepted foreign exchange students. However this year, they are being cautious and said they would like to accept students if the circumstances surrounding COVID allow, French said.
Shasta Union High School District will accept foreign exchange students granted they comply with the travel restrictions. That means testing negative for COVID-19 before they leave their countries, and quarantining when they arrive in August, Superintendent Jim Cloney said.
“Vaccines for youth are not recommended so it’s not an issue but we just have to make sure they’re not incubating the virus,” he said.
Students will be arriving in August. To learn more about hosting a student, contact Jessica French at 530-605-8927 or [email protected]
Nada Atieh is a Report For America corps member and education reporter focusing on childhood trauma and the achievement gap for the Redding Record Searchlight. Follow her on Twitter at @nadatieh_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today! And if you are able, please consider a tax-deductible gift toward her work.