By: Melanie Ruberti firstname.lastname@example.org
April 26, 2014
There’s no shortage of foreign students wanting the “American experience.”
But when it comes to pairing them up with host families, the list fall short. Very short. According to Christiane Price, she only has one family interested in the program in the Troup County area. And she only has until June first to find enough families to house the students, or risk turning them down for the 2014-2015 school year.
“It’s frustrating,” Price said. ” I lost my cell phone. So now, I’m relying on friends of friends. I put a poster up in the library. It’s really just word of mouth.”
Price is the adviser and regional coordinator of Nacel Open Door, the program that places foreign exchange students in American homes in Troup, Meriwether, and Coweta counties. Right now, there are 11 students from eight different countries in the program at Troup County High School, LaGrange High School, and Callaway High Schools.
“The loving, generous, host families are the hub. None of this would happen without them,” Price said.
One of those family’s are the Warrens. Amy Warren and her husband took in Karina Sorensen, a 17 year old student from Stavanger, Norway. She’s been living with the Warrens’ since August.
“It’s been good,” Amy said. “It can be challenging because it’s different cultures. But it’s fun to show her the American way of life.”
Karina is finishing up her sophomore year at LaGrange High School. Right away, she noticed many differences.
“In Norway, we just sit in the classroom. The teachers come to us,” she explained. “We have longer breaks and the grading system is very different…..extra-curricular activities have nothing to do with the schools.”
She also had to adapt to the Warrens way of life.
“I’m from a country where religion is not big at all,” Sorensen said. “Here, we go to church every Sunday.”
She also helps out around the Warren’s house and in Amy’s store, An Affair to Remember, off Lafayette Square. Price said doing chores around the host family’s home is one of the requirements for students wanting to participate in the foreign exchange program.
In fact, Price said it is a thorough and lengthy process for both the foreign exchange students and the host families. There are online applications, criminal background checks, and interviews. The students must also provide their academic and medical records, obtain a temporary visa, write a letter to their host family, and bring their own pocket money for extra activities, like taking trips with their family. In turn, the family must provide a home, bed, and devote some time to spend with their foreign exchange student.
“We want kids who come abroad to really feel the vibe and have opportunities they may not have in their own countries,” Price explained. “Sports, clubs, mission trips with churches. One student went to New Orleans to feed and help the homeless. Usually the government in their country takes care of that. It was eye opening to that student to have the volunteers do it.”
Many of the foreign exchange students do take part in after school activities. Price said two of the students made their host high school’s basketball and soccer teams. Others have joined theater groups and are in their school’s spring productions. Karina was a part of LaGrange High School’s cross country team and is currently in their choir.
Price said the host families get almost as much out of the experience as the students do.
“They experience diversity. It’s an incredible opportunity to be life changing,” she explained. “The family who says ‘yes’ to this is out of this world. They’re birthing an international friendship. They’re the ones who make this possible. It’s life changing and transforming. For that, I will be forever grateful to these families.”
Price remembers her own experience as a foreign exchange student from Berlin, Germany, adapting to American life in Greenville, South Carolina.
“I am thankful for my American mom. I had a fabulous host mom and dad,” she said. “They were very open, loving, and caring. They made sure I understood everything.”
It was because of her host family, that Price landed her first job teaching at Furman University, and met her husband. Price is now an assistant professor at LaGrange College, where she teaches comparative literature, German, and French.
“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “I know what it did for me, and I see what it’s done for the kids. For them to have this opportunity is life changing.”
Seventeen year old Karina Sorensen has enjoyed her stay so much, she’s already looking a college programs in America. But she’ll have to wait two years before she can get another student visa. Sorensen will head back to Norway in May, and said leaving is going to be hard.
“I know when the time comes, I’m going to cry,” the 17 year said. “It’s like having a second life, a new family, new friends, new activities for 10 months, and then I’m going to leave it all.”
The Warrens’ siid they’ll miss her too.
“Learning how to have another “sister” in the family is fun and challenging,” Warren said. “It’s been great though. It’s a great experience, and a fun way to share your way of life with another person. I would do it again.”
For more information on the foreign exchange program, Nacel Open Door, or to become a host family, call Christiane Price at 706-882-9638 or email her at email@example.com