23 Aug 2014
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Hosting an Exchange Student in Skokie

Our mom columnist urges others to partake in life-changing experience in embracing a wider world.

Hosting an Exchange Student in Skokie Hosting an Exchange Student in Skokie Hosting an Exchange Student in Skokie

Hosting a foreign exchange student will change your life.

Have you ever considered hosting a foreign exchange student?  I didn’t until last summer.  

Honestly, I never considered it. I was so busy with my own family that it never crossed my mind. My next thought was, "How could I fit another person in our busy lives?" My husband and I both work full time and we already have five kids.  But then I asked, “Why not?”

Hosting a foreign exchange student is a great opportunity to learn about another culture and it’s a chance to become American ambassadors.  Besides, we had an extra bed, and it was my only daughter’s chance to finally have a sister.  So I applied online to AFS-USA, and one month later we welcomed Francesca from Italy into our family and home.

I applied to AFS-USA not just because I'm their community developer, but
because I heard it was a very reputable international exchange program.  AFS has been exchanging students for over 60 years.  Their volunteers work closely with the host families and schools to make advance preparations, and they maintain contact throughout the year.

The group regularly monitors the progress of an AFS student and provides support for any academic or personal concerns that might arise. So that at the end of the day, the role of the host family is only to incorporate and enjoy their new daughter or son.

I was most impressed with the AFS mission statement: “AFS-USA works toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to individuals, families, schools, and communities through a global volunteer partnership.”

In a world filled of misunderstandings and unknowns, this mission becomes more vital every day.  It is impossible to "hate" a country or religion when it has a name and a face.

I have to say that Francesca has been a great addition to our family. She fits right in!  We eat, study, play and sightsee just like any family. It’s been so much fun to see Skokie, Chicago and the U.S. through her eyes. Hosting Francesca is a connection to the greater world; two families tied together by the love of a student.

Would you consider being a host family? It is a wonderful experience, full of love, laughter, some tough times (they are teenagers, after all!) and a lifetime of connection to another person, another family and another culture.  It is amazing!  If we can do it, anyone can.

Traci Larson-Lee has six children: five of her own and one foreign exchange student from Italy who is attending Niles West High School. In the past, she served on the referendum committee for District 72. Traci is the director of development for District 219's Education Foundation for Excellence, works with the SKOMOR Soccer Club and is getting her master's from North Park University in Chicago. She also works as a community developer and travels often.

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