Exchange Program Seeks Host Families

Foreign exchange students from all over the world are looking for a place to call home during their visit to the United States.

The Academic Year in America Student Exchange Program is seeking host families in Chautauqua County for the 2013-14 school year.

According to local AYA coordinator Mel Feather, the AYA program is trying to find placement for approximately 80 of the 700-800 students it brings over annually. The students, who come from Germany, Brazil, China, Korea, Russia and other countries, are usually 16 years old.

“I’m just interested in finding one family right now,” said Feather. “If I had two or three big families that were interested, that would work. I wouldn’t want any more than that.”

Feather, who was a host parent with AYA for 18 consecutive years, said he is only equipped to handle placing a few students with host families at a time because he is the only AYA coordinator within a 65-mile radius. Additionally, the program is now in “crunch time” to try and find placement for its remaining students because there is only one month left to finish and file the paperwork required for student placement.

The students will be flying from their respective countries between Aug. 22 and 25, when they will then have a two-day orientation at Newark Liberty International Airport to discuss the expectations they have of their host families and experience abroad. In conjunction with the extensive process of pairing an exchange student with a family, Feather will also have to go through the process of registering the student with the school district in which they will be living.

“If, for example, a family calls me from the (Bemus Point Central School) district, I would immediately have to go up there to make an appointment with the principal or the superintendent to clear with them the fact that they’d have to accept the student,” said Feather.

As a Frewsburg resident, Feather said he has worked extensively with the Frewsburg Central School district in the past.

“I hosted 18 students from Germany, and they all went to Frewsburg,” he said. “I know Falconer has taken AYA students in the past, but it depends on the school. Some of the bigger schools will take maybe four students. Frewsburg, for years, had a limit of three; although in the last bunch of years, it’s only been one or two at the most. Other schools only allow one student on a first-come, first-served basis.”

As for the host families, Feather said he must go to great lengths to ensure that the student/host family relationship is the best possible fit for both parties. The first means of doing so is by interviewing the entire family together, and taking a tour of the house to see the amenities with which the student would be provided.

“There’s a bunch of things you have to look for in a host family. The first thing is: is everybody buying into this? Everybody’s got to want this to happen,” said Feather. “Then, you would check the neighborhood and, of course, the school, and then you have to get reference checks from two non-family friends of (the family).”

The AYA program is one of the largest high school/homestay programs in the United States. Since its inception in 1981, the program has brought more than 31,000 international students into the U.S. to learn about the American way of life.

The exchange students arrive in August and leave after the end of school in June. Each student is insured, has his or her own spending money and looks forward to participating in the life of an American family.

Each student has been interviewed and screened by AYA and the U.S. Embassy in their home country. Families can select a student from a large list of applicants. After a potential host family is approved, they can view student profiles that include their photograph, family photos and a personal autobiography.

For more information on the AYA program or becoming a host family, contact Feather at 569-4092.