Education First High School Exchange Year matches U.S. families with students from around the globe to allow them to experience the life of an American high schooler.
“The whole experience, not only for an exchange student but also for a host family, is a true blessing,” said Sanne van Vliet from the Netherlands. She attended Lewisville High School during the 2015-16 school year. “You always have family on the other side of the world.”
EF HSEY, a national nonprofit with a Lewisville chapter, is accepting applications from potential host families for semester and year–long exchange stays. EF local international exchange coordinator Nedra Bunk said welcoming a high school exchange student into your home is a great way to connect your family to the world.
“America’s young people will soon be asked to collaborate and compete with peers from many different countries and cultures,” Bunk said. “There are a few experiences that can spark an interest in travel and global diversity in your community like hosting an international student.”
Sharing American life
When van Vliet graduated from her high school in the spring of 2015, she didn’t know what she wanted to study in college. She decided to take a gap year before picking a major and came to the U.S. through EF.
“You go there all by yourself, and all your friends and family are still at home, so you really get to know yourself,” van Vliet said. While in Lewisville she realized she wanted a job where she could help people and is now studying in Utrecht to become a nurse.
Texans, it turned out, don’t ride horses everywhere and wear cowboy hats, van Vliet learned. They are however welcoming and caring, and they possess immense school spirit, attributes she said she appreciates but aren’t common in the Netherlands.
Van Vliet said high school in the Netherlands doesn’t have extracurricular classes. At LHS she was able to take choir, theater and creative writing.
“I love American high school,” van Vliet said. “Every day I did what I love. I love to sing, I love to write stories and I could do that every day and that’s so amazing.”
Students could come from Germany, Italy, Norway, Thailand, Japan, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden or Taiwan. They are between the ages of 15 and 18. Students are thoroughly screened in their home country, Bunk said.
This year is Barbara Meade’s first year hosting an international student, an endeavor she was originally hesitant about but was convinced by her 18–year–old daughter, Laura, to partake in. Meade’s daughter recently travelled with People to People, a U.S. ambassador program, to experience the culture in Europe and said she would love to be able to host a similar experience for another student.
“I want to use the word enriching, but it just seems better,” Meade said when describing taking in Pearl Zilske Germany. “And the school has nearly 4,000 students, where she comes from one of 300 [students]. She was totally blown away. It’s a big culture shock, but it was amazing to watch her grow and blossom.”
Meade said, while it’s not required, she pays for Zilske to eat out with the family and go on trips.
“If we go out as a family, you are part of the family,” Meade responds when Zilske is reluctant to spend money. “We’re here to have fun, experience things together and relax. Enjoy the ride and let us take care of things.”
In addition to going to the Dallas Arboretum, Six Flags Over Texas and various other places in North Texas, the family has taken Zilske to Branson, Missouri, Shreveport, Louisiana and Orlando, Florida.
Meade said she let Zilske drive her car. Zilske is considering getting her license in the U.S. as the fees to transfer the document would be a fraction of the approximately $2,000 she would have to spend to get a German license, Meade said.
Those considering hosting an international student should be prepared to have a lot of fun, experience challenges in cultural difference, and provide love and patience, Meade said.
“Treat them like your own, but know that they are going to have questions,” she said. “You’re going to need to be ready to listen and explain.”
There are three primary requirements host families must meet. Families have to be able to provide a bed that isn’t convertible in fashion, three meals a day and transportation to and from school for their student, Bunk said. Families are also volunteers and not compensated.
“The rule is designed to ensure that host families are participating in the program for the right reasons,” she said. “However in recognition of their role as citizen ambassadors, all host families are eligible to receive a charitable tax deduction on their tax return.”
There is also a screening process for host families, including a home visit, an in-person interview and a background check. Families choose the student that will be living with them based on student bios.
To read more about the program go to efexchangeyear.org. To apply to be a host family, fill out the form at ltjne.ws/applyefhost.