Hosting an Exchange Student in Skokie

Our mom columnist urges others to partake in life-changing experience in embracing a wider world.

Hosting a foreign exchange student will change your life.

Have you ever considered hosting a foreign exchange student?  I didn’t until last summer.  

Honestly, I never considered it. I was so busy with my own family that it never crossed my mind. My next thought was, "How could I fit another person in our busy lives?" My husband and I both work full time and we already have five kids.  But then I asked, “Why not?”

Hosting a foreign exchange student is a great opportunity to learn about another culture and it’s a chance to become American ambassadors.  Besides, we had an extra bed, and it was my only daughter’s chance to finally have a sister.  So I applied online to AFS-USA, and one month later we welcomed Francesca from Italy into our family and home.

I applied to AFS-USA not just because I'm their community developer, but
because I heard it was a very reputable international exchange program.  AFS has been exchanging students for over 60 years.  Their volunteers work closely with the host families and schools to make advance preparations, and they maintain contact throughout the year.

The group regularly monitors the progress of an AFS student and provides support for any academic or personal concerns that might arise. So that at the end of the day, the role of the host family is only to incorporate and enjoy their new daughter or son.

I was most impressed with the AFS mission statement: “AFS-USA works toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to individuals, families, schools, and communities through a global volunteer partnership.”

In a world filled of misunderstandings and unknowns, this mission becomes more vital every day.  It is impossible to "hate" a country or religion when it has a name and a face.

I have to say that Francesca has been a great addition to our family. She fits right in!  We eat, study, play and sightsee just like any family. It’s been so much fun to see Skokie, Chicago and the U.S. through her eyes. Hosting Francesca is a connection to the greater world; two families tied together by the love of a student.

Would you consider being a host family? It is a wonderful experience, full of love, laughter, some tough times (they are teenagers, after all!) and a lifetime of connection to another person, another family and another culture.  It is amazing!  If we can do it, anyone can.

Traci Larson-Lee has six children: five of her own and one foreign exchange student from Italy who is attending Niles West High School. In the past, she served on the referendum committee for District 72. Traci is the director of development for District 219's Education Foundation for Excellence, works with the SKOMOR Soccer Club and is getting her master's from North Park University in Chicago. She also works as a community developer and travels often.

Ruth H March 04, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Hi Traci! I love your articles! I have a question for you. One of my daughters has mentioned going overseas so she could be an exchange student herself. I really doubt I'd let her do this because I feel like I shouldn't let her go so far away from me. Do you think the experience would be just as good if it were one of your kids?
EH March 04, 2011 at 03:51 PM
I was an exchange student with AFS when I was 16 and stayed with a family in Ecuador. It was an invaluable experience. I learned about another culture, became fluent in Spanish, gained self-confidence and made friends from around the US and Ecuador. Now that I'm a mom, I understand your trepidation but I can assure you that AFS is selective too. I remember a screening process to make sure you, your daughter and your hosts are ready for this experience. And as the author mentions, they provide organizational support to you and your daughter. I encourage you to visit the AFS website.
Ruth H March 04, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Thank you Edie! Your comments really help. But when you say the AFS is selective, what does that mean? Does the applicant have to have really good grades or meet some sort of criteria? I'm really on the fence about this, but advice from people who experienced it really goes a long way. Thanks!
Traci Larson-Lee March 04, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Hi Ruth! Absolutely! I plan on having my all my kids study aboard. It is a great experience for everyone. The students learn so much about other cultures as well as they learn so much about themselves. My 2 oldest will studying abroad in college and my other 3 will be going on an AFS program. AFS is very supportive and they keep a close eye on each student throughout the year. I've been very impressed with their active participation with the families, students, and schools.
Ruth H March 04, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Thank you Traci!
h m March 04, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Ruth, If I had to do it all over again, I would not have a problem sending my son overseas as a exchange student. I can tell you that by him being in Germany, France and the Czech Republic for Hockey has helped him gain the knowledge and experience that helped him feel comfortable with the university he is atteneding as he started. Many of your excellent students that have not expereience being away from home (mom & dad) fail when they go to a university.
Gaby v March 04, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Hi Ruth! I understand your concern about sending your child to a foreign country, my parents were REALLY appresensive about sending to France (I went with AFS in 2004). AFS explained to ua that they did a thorough backdround check on the family I was going to live with as well as making sure that the city I would be living in was safe. I have to say that was the best experience for my family and myself. Since then I have traveled to 10 countries lived in Spain for a year in college and have received a BA Spanish & French, International studies. That experience has made me who I am today. I also have volunteered for them since I came back in 2004. So Ruth you are in good hands.
Melissa B March 04, 2011 at 08:12 PM
Thank you Traci for capturing the essence of what the host family experience is all about. As a former host parent, I echo each and every point you made. Hosting an AFS student has a positive impact on each and every member of the family - including the natural family of the hosted student. Hosting is a life-changing, life-long experience for all involved!
Francesca March 07, 2011 at 02:53 AM
Thank you Mom! This article is AWSOME! I love this part: "Hosting Francesca is a connection to the greater world; two families tied together by the love of a student". It's so true! One more thing that I want to say, if i may talk in the name of all exchange students: we don't expect our host families to do any different from what they do in their usual everyday's life! We are abroad to discover a new country through the eyes and habits of a regular family, with its way of life! Francesca from Italy! Btw Mom, I love you! =D


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