Exchange rate

Dozens of high school pupils from countries like Japan, Taiwan, Germany and the Netherlands are eager to experience American culture and education.

Before they can do that, however, they need a place to live.

John Gearhart, regional director, said that normally, finding host families isn’t a problem, as many Americans welcome the opportunity to learn more about different cultures through the students they house. But this year has seen a shortage of volunteers.

“There are still about 50 students who have selected Oklahoma as an ideal place for their visit in the United States,” Gearhart said, but have yet to be “adopted” by a host family.

If they cannot find families in Oklahoma City or the surrounding areas, they either will have to go to another state or postpone their studyabroad experience indefinitely.

Since the program is for high school students, seniors have only this one opportunity to study abroad.

In the past, many foster parents and empty-nesters have volunteered to be host families, Gearhart said.

“We like to say that families come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a husband and a wife with a picket fence and all of that. We’re just looking for a nice home.”

Potential host families must pass a background check and be able to provide three meals a day, transportation to and from school, and a bedroom that the student can share with a similarly aged child of the same gender.

Most Oklahoma high schools make allotments for foreign exchange students, so location isn’t a problem, Gearhart said. Ayusa requires that students must have taken at least three years of English-language courses prior to entering the program and pass a written and oral test. They also must maintain a 3.0 GPA during the course of their studies, assisted by Ayusa provided tutors if necessary.

It is common for a family to volunteer to host students two or three years in a row.

“The comfort, reinforcement and mentoring that you get from a host family is certainly unique and helpful,” Gearhart said. “You have a support network: the host family and the students you meet and friends that you make. Those are lifelong relationships and friendships that are made.”

The volunteer registry is open until the end of August and can be accessed at ayusa.org.

Sarah Lobban

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