In early July, a group of 19 students and one leader from France will be arriving in Maine for almost three weeks. The students are arriving through an international student exchange program called the Greenheart Exchange, a nonprofit organization. Kathy Hansen, a local coordinator for Greenheart said she still needs 10 volunteer host families for students.
The students range in age from 13-17. For this short-term immersion program, host families should have children in the same general age range in the home. Hansen said the students aren’t coming to be entertained or to travel, and host families shouldn’t need to spend any money beyond the cost of feeding the student.
|So much can be learned from hosting a student from a different country|
The students are here, Hansen said, to make friends, practice English speaking, and share their language and culture with the students who are hosting.
Finding host families can be a challenge. “A lot of people don’t host because of three things – time, money and space,” Hansen said. While those concerns can be valid, none of them should be a barrier for this short-term summer program.
Families don’t need to arrange their schedules around the visiting student. Students do the same things the host student is doing or partner up with another exchange student if the host teenager is working or at camp. Sometimes, exchange students even join the host student at a camp – with the exchange student covering any costs of their camp experience. One family who is hosting this summer plans to be camping the whole time and is taking the exchange student along. “I say, just throw them in the mix,” Hansen said.
When it comes to space, Hansen said, students don’t need to have a dedicated room. She collects rollaway cots at yard sales, she says, and either the host student or the exchange student can use something like that.
Students have their own spending money, and if they want to do activities that cost money they pay their own way. “I tell my families not to spend money at all, except to feed them,” Hansen said. She suggests just letting students bond with the family instead. Families can also seek out free things to do in the area, she added. She shared that when she hosted, she always brought students to the Portland Museum of Art on Friday evenings, when admission is free, which also got her own children to go to the PMA.
That’s another advantage of hosting, she said. You don’t always make time to take your family to places like a lighthouse when you live in the area. But finding those free things and taking the exchange student along with your own children, promotes families spending time together.
Hansen has been hosting for about 36 years now. She started when a teacher in Portland called her and asked her to consider it. She said she doesn’t even know how the teacher got her name, but she loved the experience, and became a volunteer the following year.
Hansen has five grown children of her own. “When I look back at being a very busy mom, not having a lot of money, time or space with five kids, one of the smartest things I did was to host exchange students because I brought the world to my kids,” she said. Having exchange students from all over the world helped her children think about the world and other people.
Host families do not need to be from Windham. Anywhere within an hour and a half radius is acceptable for this group. Hansen said even if someone can only host for part of the time, she can accommodate that. There is a short application, which can be accessed at www.tfaforms.com/236744. For more information, contact Hansen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 207-653-1007.