FALMOUTH — Being a host family for a foreign exchange student comes with responsibility, but it’s also a life-changing experience that often benefits the hosts as much as the student coming to study in America.
Through the Portland-based Council On International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, Falmouth High School often welcomes exchange students who wish to live and study in Maine.
Although the current academic year just closed, CIEE is already seeking host families from Falmouth willing to house students for the upcoming school year, which starts on Sept. 4.
One is from Germany and the other from Brazil. Both would likely be members of the sophomore class.
Melissa Price, a local coordinator for CIEE, said she’s had some difficulty finding host families for these two students, but is hopeful that when Falmouth families understand how the process works, they’ll be willing to offer a helping hand.
Price said that host families receive a monthly stipend of $800 and that each exchange student “will come with their own spending money … to cover the cost of their own incidental spending.”
What host families are asked to do, she said, is provide a “safe, comfortable and open-minded home for a student.” They are also asked to provide meals and ensure their student gets to and from school.
Price said anyone can act as a host, from empty-nesters to single parents to families with high schoolers of their own. In general, “we look for people who are interested in learning about other cultures and sharing their own traditions and interests,” she said.
The student from Germany, Amelie, 15, would be enrolled at Falmouth High for the entire school year, while the student from Brazil, Bruno, 16, would only be attending during the first semester, late August through December.
In a written statement, Amelie said “people describe me as kind and well-balanced. In my free time I like to play badminton, read books and meet my friends.” She also likes to spend time with her pet cat, Cody.
“I am … very excited to make new friends and (enjoy) many new experiences in the United States,” she added.
Bruno is hoping to play American football for Falmouth High. Price said the Football Boosters “are very excited to welcome him to the team,” but that can only happen if a local host family can be found.
In his written statement, Bruno said, “I consider myself to be a very organized, rational, and determined person. I have always (had) good relationships with all my friends … and would love to make new friends.
“I love playing sports and would love to be part of the football and volleyball teams, as well as joining a music club.”
Price said due to privacy concerns, more personal information, such as the last names and photos of exchange students, can only be shared with approved families who have gone through the formal application process and background check.
Price said in her work with CIEE, it’s her job to vet potential host families, as well as provide them with support and guidance while the foreign student is living with them.
“My job is to promote a successful experience for both the host family and student and act as support,” she said.
In order to participate in the CIEE program, Price said all students must be able to speak and read English at a level that would allow them to “thrive and succeed” and said that’s especially true for any student enrolled “in the rigorous program offered at FHS.”
She said that Bruno’s native language is Portuguese, but he also has one year of Spanish under his belt, while Amelie speaks German.
“Hosting an exchange student is often rewarding for the entire family in ways you would not even expect,” Price said.
While, “hosting allows you to take part in making a student’s dream come true, sometimes you find that you learn so much more from your student than you are giving. The relationships that are formed are often lifelong.”
At CIEE, Price said, the organization often uses the hashtag “‘Best Year Ever,’ because that’s how our students (most) often describe their program year.”
For the exchange students, coming to America allows them to be “immersed in our culture and gain a much deeper fluency in English,” she said. “Culturally, American families can differ quite a bit from a typical family in their home country and they also gain American friends and family.”
Housing a foreign exchange student can benefit the host family in myriad ways, says local coordinator for Portland-based CIEE.