What would you do if your teenager approached you with the notion of the family hosting a foreign student for a school year? It could be a student from Europe or the Far East, one who speaks English well, but possibly one who wants to improve his language skills and wants to have a first-hand American experience to take back home. According to Mary Morton of the Ayusa Global Youth Exchange, it does happen, resulting in the experience of a lifetime for many young people.
Ayusa is a nonprofit organization focused on developing leadership skills and global learning by, as they say, “sharing cultures, extending families.”
“Middle Georgia families have been hosting Ayusa exchange students for the past 16 years,” Morton said, “and the experience has been transformative for the students who blossom in the local community through support from the families and schools.”
Maria Grant, local homemaker and mother of four teenagers, wholeheartedly agrees as she recently described her family’s experience this year hosting a German student in the Peach County school system. “Eric was supposed to be with us,” she said. “My son had learned German and wanted to host a German student, but we had no idea what to expect.” Now back home in Germany, Eric has started a baseball team called the Berlin Braves (they play on a field built by Americans) and even had his picture taken with the American flag and a truck at one of several Southern — as in Deep South USA — country festivals that Eric said are very popular with young people in Germany. “When you think about the popularity of the Bavarian culture here in in this country like places such as Helen (Georgia), it’s amazing to think that our American Southern culture is celebrated in another country,” Morton said.
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When asked what a typical day looks like for an Ayusa family, Grant is quick to lay out the ground rules suitable every host family. “Having Eric in the house was just one more child in an ordinary day of all the kids making their own breakfast, going to school, baseball practice after school and drama practice at the school,” she said. “In fact, he even had chores, just like the other children, so he fit in and went with the flow.”
Morton, whose family has hosted many students over the years, agrees that being a host family has been such a positive experience for her children. “More and more schools are embracing the exchange program so that our students get to experience other cultures first hand,” she said. “Lifetime relationships are established and you get to experience another culture without leaving your home.”
Ayusa is a member of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel and an official U.S. Department of State designated Exchange Visitor program sponsor. Ayusa administers the YES grant program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, and is part of the Intrax family of organizations that provide high quality educational programs connecting people and cultures worldwide. Students come from over 60 countries, are fully insured, bring their own spending money and are proficient in English.
Families interested in learning more about hosting an exchange student can visit www.ayusa.org or call Mary Morton at 478-320-2976.
Marsha Priest Buzzell is the executive director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau and may be contacted at 478-922-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.