Youth for Understanding, a nonprofit international high school exchange program, is looking for Arizona volunteers to host high school exchange students for the coming school year.
Historically, it has been a challenge for YFU to place students in Arizona because public schools here start much earlier than other places in the country. But Katy Lindell, YFU’s Tucson-based community development manager, is hoping to expand the program’s presence in the state.
For the coming school year, the program has students from 60 countries and every continent. YFU still has 174 students left to place across the U.S., and Lindell is hoping to bring at least 10 to Arizona. So far, they have one confirmed host family in Arizona – a Tucson family that will be hosting a boy from Chile.
Students can attend public, charter, or private high schools all over the state through a J-1 visa.
Though Arizona public schools are starting as early as this week, it is not too late to apply to host a student. “Whether they miss a few days of school in the beginning or not, they just want to get here and get their year started,” Lindell said.
Bringing a person into your family
Years before being hired as a community development manager, Lindell was an exchange student through Youth for Understanding. In 2009, she studied abroad in Sweden as a junior in high school.
“I grew up in a tiny town in Idaho, so it was like a whole new world,” she said. “And that relationship with my family really stuck.” She visits her host family regularly, and in November they came to Tucson for her wedding.
Michele Weyker, a Litchfield Park resident, began hosting students through Youth for Understanding in 2008. Since then, she has hosted nine girls.
“I wish more people could experience it … just learning about different cultures and opening up your heart to someone,” Weyker said. “Almost all of them call me Mom, still to this day. We say ‘I love you.’ We video chat every so often.”
She recently visited two of her exchange daughters in Germany and Denmark. In September, one of her exchange daughters from Latvia will be visiting.
“You’re bringing a person into your family,” she said. “You’re not ever supposed to treat them like a guest in your house.”
After school ended in May but before they left in June, Weyker took her exchange daughters on trips. “Every last one of my girls, we went to Vegas,” she said. “It just seems to be a place that everybody wants to see, because they see it on TV.”
She’s taken them to California, as well as Arizona destinations such as Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
What to know if you’re interested in hosting an exchange student
Families can choose to host a student for a semester or a year, or to serve as a welcome family that hosts a student for 12 weeks until a permanent host family can be found.
Families are required to provide three meals a day and a bed to sleep in (though the student can share a room with a same-sex sibling), as well as “parental support like they would their own child,” Lindell said. Students come to the U.S. with medical insurance and money for a cellphone, entertainment and toiletries.
Host families can be single parents, same-sex couples, divorced families and families with and without kids, Lindell said.
After applying on YFU’s website, families must pass a background check, provide references, upload photos of their living space and complete an in-home interview with a YFU volunteer. They can then look through profiles to choose which student they want to host.
“There is no deadline to apply to host,” Lindell said. “We are actively looking for families that are interested for this school year, even short stay ‘welcome families.’’’
If a family is interested in hosting an exchange student but is not quite prepared to do so this year, YFU is looking for families for future years as well. The program will start receiving profiles for next year’s students in October.