Old Rochester Regional High School’s AFS club is looking for volunteers in the Tri-Town area to host foreign exchange students for the 2014-2015 school year. This year, the school welcomed two exchange students – Ailina Cervantes Diaz from Costa Rica and Louisa Truss from Germany – but the school has had up to five students per year in the past. Without the volunteer host families, ORR would not be able to welcome any exchange students at all.
“I have moments that have marked my life, and one of those is the moment when I met my [host] family,” said Diaz, “They included me from the beginning as part of the family without hesitation.”
This kind of relationship between the host family and exchange student is valuable. The whole living experience is educational to both the American family and foreign student. Rhonda Reints, the current ORR chapter treasurer of AFS, hosted a student from Thailand in 2009. “Learning the way her family functioned in Thailand – and not necessarily having to travel outside of my own home to do that – was valuable to my children,” she recalled.
The AFS club brings this type of cultural education to their students involved at the high school. “Bringing the diversity in and exposing them to other countries, other nationalities, other cultures teaches them an appreciation for not only their culture, but other cultures too,” said Reints, “They’re more tolerant of people … There’s more of an awareness that you live here, but you’re such a small part of such a bigger world.”
The foreign exchange students also develop this awareness through the AFS program. “Being an AFS student has benefited me in so many ways. For example, I met awesome people from different parts of the world, I have met great people from the Tri-Town, and it has given me a different perspective from every culture,” said Diaz, “Now I have a different way to see and think [about] the world.”
The AFS program brings so much to the students, but it would be lost without volunteer host families. The program relies on these host families to bring exchange students to ORR, but often struggles to find volunteers.
“If you have teenagers already in the house, it’s a breeze,” said Reints, “It’s not hard, and I didn’t think it was financially a lot – it just depends on how much you do and how much you travel as a family.”
Reints looks back on her hosting experience fondly. “Just like any new student, once they’ve made friends, it’s just a matter of watching them grow, and your family grows with them,” she said.
In order to have exchange students at ORR, a host family first has to express interest. The family then needs to fill out the necessary AFS forms online, pass background checks, have three references, go through an in-person family interview conducted by two AFS area representatives, and pass a quick house observation to make sure the home is suitable for the exchange student. Interested families simply need to visit www.afsusa.org/host-family to start the application process.
“Once a family has been approved, they’ll be sent a list of available students,” said Reints. Reints encourages interested families to apply as soon as possible, because then they’ll have a more diverse list of countries from which to choose their exchange student. Currently, there are no volunteer host families for the 2014-2015 school year, but applications are being accepted online.
If hosting a student doesn’t sound suitable for your family, there are still ways to be involved with AFS club. Multiple volunteer opportunities can be found on the AFS USA website.
Reints encourages community members to get involved with our region’s AFS club. “Anybody can be in our AFS club,” she said, “If there was more of us in our little parent group, if we had more members, we would be able to reach out to find more host families.”
Reints also noted that more volunteers would bring more opportunities to ORR’s AFS club. “We’re always looking for ideas of different things to do with the ORR students to expose them to cultural activities,” she said.
For more information on AFS and the opportunities the program offers, visit www.afsusa.org/.
By Renae Reints