Exchange program looking for host families
Taking part in a foreign exchange program is one way for students across America to get out of the country to see the world, learn about another culture and make new friends across the globe. It is also one of the main ways students from other countries get the chance to live the American dream and find out what it is like to be an American teenager. That is where Nacel Open Door comes in.
“The kids that take part in the exchange program want to come to learn about American culture, but they also share things about their own culture with their host family, so it is a win-win,” said Kim Morvig, a local rep for Nacel Open Door. “There can be a lot of culture shock for some of the kids because they watch ‘Glee’ and think that is what going to high school and living in America is like, but they find out pretty quick that it isn’t. But the experience is great for the kids for the families and for the schools that they attend.”
According to its website, Nacel Open Door (NOD) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to international understanding and language education. The organization was founded in 1957 and is aimed at students who want to broaden their perspective of the world and gain practical experience living, working and learning in another culture. The national offices for NOD are located in St. Paul. Today, NOD offers programs in over 35 countries in Europe, Asia, Oceania and North and South America.
“This program is a great way for districts to get culture into their school,” Morvig said. “It is like bringing a country here and allows the students to learn about it and compare it to our own culture. Going to schools like New Richmond High School and the other schools in that area is a great experience for the exchange students, because they get to experience a more hometown feeling than they would get in a big city or school. Sometimes it can be hard to deal with the diversity and sheer number of students in the bigger schools.”
Morvig said that over 200 students apply to come to America through NOD every year from countries all over the world. Every student who applies is tested for a certain level of English and passes a background check before he or she is approved to take part in the program. The students must get a C or better in all their classes at the host school to stay in the program and must also abide by all the host family’s rules. The students need to be a C average student or better to be considered for the program.
“Nacel does a good job of making sure the students are ready before they let them come and stay with a host family,” Morvig said. “The families get to see the full applications of the students before they make a choice on who they wish to allow into their homes. There is also a home visit set up by NOD to come and visit the host family’s house to make sure that the room the student will be living in is up to their standards.”
A NOD student is allowed to share a room with a family member and the host family is required to provide breakfast and dinner. Other than that, an exchange student must provide their own spending money and pay for their own school lunches and other activities. The students are not allowed to take driver’s education while they are in the program.
“The host families do a lot for the students as it is, so we don’t want them to feel like they need to pay for everything for the student that they are hosting,” Morvig said. “It is the student’s choice if they want to do things, like play sports or go on vacations or trips with their host family. But for most of these kids, this is the only chance they will get to see and do this stuff in America, so they try to do as much as they can and experience everything possible. A lot of the kids have dreamed about coming to America.”
One of the things Morvig stressed about the program is that NOD has insurance that covers pretty much everything that could go wrong or break while a student is staying with a host family. Morvig also mentioned that most high schools like for a host family to have a student in high school already when they host an exchange student. This way, the exchange student will have someone there who they are familiar with and can rely on.
“It usually is a great experience for the host student to go to school together with the exchange student because it allows them to bond and get to know each other better,” Morvig said.
According to Morvig, a host family may host a student as long as they wish, be it for a short six- to eight-week period for the start of school or for the full semester.
“If something comes up, we are always there to help and make things easier for both the family and the student,” Morvig said. “If someone just wants to be a welcome family, they can host a student for the beginning of the school year and then another family will host them for the rest of the year.”
One of the reasons Morvig loves working with NOD so much is that she has hosted a student every year since 2005 and she can attest to how well the program works.
“If you need help with anything, someone is just a phone call away and can come and help in whatever way is needed pretty quickly,” Morvig said. “For my family, we don’t travel much, so it is nice to get the chance to experience a new culture every year by bringing a new student into our home. It is great to share things with those students that they don’t do in their countries and to also learn about the things that they do and we don’t.”