“The first year we hosted a foreign exchange student from Taiwan, his mom was scared he would just be fed junk food,” said Moorpark resident Cheryl De Bari-Schaible.
The cultural exchange desire as well as the opportunity to clarify preconceived notions about America is what has motivated some families like the Schaibles to host foreign exchange students during the summer.
This year, about 35 to 40 families from Moorpark are participating in the educational homestay program, one of many programs of Education First (EF) International.
While the educational homstay is only a month long, some of EF’s other programs including the au pair and academic degrees programs are up to a year long.
Just like most local families, the Schaibles heard about a need for host families through the school network. “It’s been a very positive experience for our family that’s why we do it year after year,” said the mom of two teens.
To date, the Schaibles have hosted students from Taiwan, Finland, China and then Italy this year.
“We try to pick a student that’s close to our kids’ ages so they can hang out together and be introduced to my kids’ friends,” said De Bari-Schaible.
“The best part is it’s educational for my kids too,” she said. “My 19-year-old daughter Amanda is leaving next month to study in Italy so she gets to practice her Italian on Carla, our exchange student.”
The experience has been so positive and enriching to this family that they’ve also invited Carla to stay with them when they visit Amanda in Bologna this Christmas.
Carla Cambosu, who hails from Sardinia, Italy, also has nothing but good words to say about her homestay experience with the Schaibles, which doesn’t involve junk food.
“They’ve introduced me to good food I’ve never tried before like Chinese, Mexican and sushi,” said the 17-year-old, a first-time visitor to the US. “They include me in everything.”
For Beth Gillis-Smith, the “reward” is getting the chance to visit her students in their home countries.
“As a family, we’ve visited Germany, Norway, Finland and Spain and gotten to know our students’ families really well,” she said. “It’s opened up our eyes to what’s going on around the world.”
According to Gillis-Smith, all of the students her family has hosted are good at keeping in touch, made easier these days by Facebook. “We still get the occasional postcard in the mail or a card on Mothers’ Day,” she said.
Like the Schaibles, the Smiths have two teens and also strive to pick exchange students close to their teens’ ages. “This year, we have Niklas, 15 from Finland, and Noemie, 16 from France,” said Gillis-Smith, whose family has been hosting exchange students for 11 years now.
“I learned from my parents, way back in the 60s when they hosted an exchange student,” said the Moorpark resident. “Even after my mom passed, the student still kept in touch with us.”
Aside from American food immersion, the Smiths also took their students to their cabin in the Sierras and to the 3rd of July Fireworks Extravaganza in Moorpark.
“We enjoy sharing our culture, our food and our lives with these kids,” said Gillis-Smith. “It’s not a stretch to let them into our lives.”
The exchange students typically go to a local school site daily for English language and American culture lessons.
“The families drop them off at a designated bus stop and then I chaperone them on the bus,” said Jane Pafundi, a local coordinator of the program for the past six years.
There were 127 teens this year, up from 110 last year, typically within the 13 to 16 age range, said Pafundi.
“This year, they were all from Europe, but in the past, we’ve had students from Taiwan and Indonesia,” she said.
On weekends, the students venture beyond the Conejo Valley, like a recent trip to San Francisco, which Pafundi also chaperoned.
On their last weekend, there’s always a big farewell barbecue party. Pafundi said, “All the students will bring a dish to share, from their home country.”
As the students bid their goodbyes this week, endless parties will be hosted and buckets of tears will be shed. De Bari-Schaible said, “I cry every year.”
Cambosu said, "I'll probably cry too, but I hope to be back soon."
For more information on EF International, click here.
To get more information about hosting foreign exchange students next summer, contact Heather Behrens at 805.766.0861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.