Host families needed for exchange students during the 2019-20 school year

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Each year Debbie Odom is on the search for host families to provide a home for exchange students during a semester or the entire school year.

This year she found host families for 14 students, including two in Thompson School District, and is looking for host families for up to 15 students, who are ages 15-18, during the next school year.

Courtesy photo – Sasha Samborska, an exchange student from Ukraine attending Thompson Valley High School, middle, is with her host parents, Kris and Virginia Kote and their dog Obi, during a hiking trip they took to Palisade Mountain in October 2018.

“I find volunteer host families and get them ready for the experience of inviting students into their homes,” said Odom of Longmont, local coordinator for Academic Year in America, a nonprofit cultural exchange program based in Stamford, Conn., that finds volunteer host families to house exchange students and expose them to the American lifestyle.

Odom placed exchange students in Loveland and Thompson Valley high schools this year but did not make any placements at Berthoud High School. Berthoud High School has two exchange students, but not through her program, she said. She also placed students in the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont and 27J Schools in Brighton, plus one student in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Once she places the students, Odom helps support the students and host families — which can include single individuals and same-sex couples. The host families agree to provide the students with three meals a day, but the students come with their own health insurance and spending money.

Odom helps the students handle any adjustment issues and facilitates the relationship with the host families, answering their questions and giving advice when needed, while also making sure they adhere to program regulations.

“How do you make the best out of your year here? What things can you do to be successful?” Odom said, adding that she tells the student, “Don’t be afraid to try new things and speak English. The biggest thing is sitting down and talking it out.”

Sasha Samborska, an exchange student from Ukraine attending Thompson Valley High School this year, loves her ventures in America.

“It’s so awesome to achieve my goal, to live here, to do all the things I was dreaming about,” Samborska said. “It feels great to know that I have another family on the other side of the world who cares about me, always can help me grow and (offer) support in reaching my highest peak.”

Some of the students are on scholarship with the aim to increase diplomatic relations and are required to do 50 volunteer hours or 100 hours for a special certificate. Odom will make suggestions of volunteer opportunities with organizations she knows about, and they also do their own research of ways to volunteer.

“I’ll point them in directions depending on the community that they’re in,” Odom said. “I give them some suggestions in the beginning, because it’s overwhelming. And then the more they go on through the year, the more they are in charge of making sure they get that done.”

Odom fosters relationships with local high schools to be able to place the students in nearby schools. She organizes intercultural experiences to get the students active outside of school and together with other exchange students going through the same things. The experiences can include things like going on a ski trip, attending a sporting event, seeing a play, going to a holiday party, participating in a game night and volunteering.

For the host families, Odom searches for individuals and families that might be interested in hosting a student, and if they want to join the program, she conducts a reference check and home visit.

“It’s a great way for people to see and learn about other cultures,” Odom said. “It’s a way to open up your home to another culture and another way of life and learn how things are done in other countries. It also breaks down barriers people might have about other nations and cultures.”

Odom hosted a student from Ukraine four years ago and after the experience decided to become a local coordinator.

“I really want to get involved and find good families and be there for them,” Odom said.

This year the students Odom is working with come from nine different countries, including Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and Ukraine.

Odom is seeking host families for the 2019-20 school year and will help match them with students based on similar lifestyles and interests. For more information, contact her at hostastudentaya@gmail.com or 303-532-6577.

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