Exchange program seeking host families
During a recent visit to tour the nation's capitol in Washington, D.C., the Pacific Intercultural Exchange stopped to pose at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. From left are: Donghyun No (South Korea), Julius Utz Fehlau (Germany), Marcel Secio (Germany), Eduardo Ojeda (Venezuela), Briana Willhoite (Maine host sister to Julius), Jesse Hutchinson (Maine host brother to Marcel).
To the Editor:
My name is Charity Webster and I live in Roxbury with my husband, Shawn. We have lived in the area for the last eight or so years. We have no children of our own, but we do have nine amazing young people all over the world who call us mom and dad.
About four and a half years ago we became involved in a student exchange program called Pacific Intercultural Exchange (P.I.E.). Since then, we have had nine different students come to stay with us, some for shorter periods of time, others for the year.
Two year ago I decided to take my love for exchange students to the next level, and in addition to being a mom to international teens, I'm also the regional manager for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Now this love for hosting has become my job and my passion. I have the privilege of working with these amazing students and families every day.
As a regional manager, it is my job to find international students suitable host families throughout the tri-state area, and to support each student, family and school while the students are in the United States. My staff and I are here to bridge the gap between cultures and make dreams come true for teens from all over the world. Each day consists of working with current students, families and schools, while also looking for future schools and families for the next set of students.
The fun part of my job is watching the students and host families experience so many new things together. I also love planning trips and activities with the students and host families, and just returned from Washington, D.C., where I lead a group of students around our nation's capitol.
In order to help me do my job, I have an amazing group of volunteer area representatives who work with me. These area reps are the ground-level support for students and host families. They get to share in all the good times with the students and families and work very hard to keep the exchange running smoothly throughout the year.
Hosting students is truly an amazing experience and many host families, including mine, have experienced that unique bond that is formed when a stranger becomes a family member in a few short months. One of the best parts of hosting is seeing something through another person's eyes.
For example, many of our students have never seen snow. When the first snowflakes fall, they get so excited that it's infectious. One of our favorite times of the year is when the students experience Christmas in Maine for the first time. The students' eyes light up when they see the twinkling of the lights and experience all of the warmth of the holiday season.
Personally, I love to learn to cook my students' national foods and surprise them with a dish now and then; it helps bring us even closer together. My absolute favorite thing is when we spend hours talking about each other's culture and the experiences we have had thus far in the exchange year.
Becoming a host parent is a great way to bring more joy into your life, and into another person's life. Host families are volunteers and do not receive compensation, therefore we rely on the generosity of amazing families who open their homes to exchange students out of the goodness of their hearts (and some tax benefits).
Our requirements are that each student should have their own bed, but can share a room with a sibling, 10 years or older and of the same sex. As a family you must provide them with three square meals a day and adequate space for their belongings. Having a student in your home is just like having a child and taking are of them as if they were your own. These kids want to be a part of your family.
Students will arrive in the country with their own spending money, health insurance, and knowing enough English to survive in an American classroom. There is no typical host family; you just need to be 25 years old and be able to provide a loving home for your student.
We are currently looking for host families for many high school students from Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Thailand and Venezuela. We are looking for families of Telstar, Mountain Valley and Dirigo High Schools.
Regional P.I.E. Manager,