Hard times means less host families for exchange students

Organization looking for help in C-A district

FLINT TWP. — A tighter economy could be curbing interest in hosting foreign exchange students in the Carman-Ainsworth School District, said Margaret Bouchard, a volunteer area representative for Youth For Understanding (YFU), one of the oldest and largest cultural exchange organizations.

YFU was founded in 1951 and is well-established in Genesee County but has not been able to find a host family in Carman-Ainsworth since the 2009-2010 school year, she said. The non-profit program enables young people to spend a summer, a semester or a school year with a family in another country. YFU partners with more than 40 countries around the world including Ghana, New Mexico, Thailand and Russia, Bouchard said.

Recruiting is ongoing with students already lined up next school year for Swartz Creek, Flushing, Atherton, Imlay City and Lapeer East and a pending application in Grand Blanc, Bouchard said. Flushing and Swartz Creek take a large number of exchange students.

Currently, Bouchard’s 13-county territory has 46 students to find placements for. In a good year, about 25 students, ranging in age from 15 to 18, are placed in Genesee, Lapeer and Shiawassee counties, she said. But in the past few years, its been about 17 to 18.

“It would be ideal to get someone for every district,’’ Bouchard said. She likes placing exchange students in Carman-Ainsworth because of the diverse student body.

“Everybody I have placed there said they liked that diversity because they don’t get that in their home school,’’ she said.

Joy Hart, a trustee on the C-A board of education, and her daughter was the last host family from Carman- Ainsworth two years ago. They hosted a 16-year-old girl from Germany.

“It was a good experience,’’ Hart said. “It helped my daughter understand other people sharing her house and her mother.’’

Hart said she learned that European youth are accustomed to more freedom than their American counterparts.

“We tend to hover over our kids,’’ Hart said. “When these kids come here, they are so independent. The can do everything on their own. It made me realize I needed to let my own child be more independent.’’

Bouchard said part of her role is to meet regularly with the student and host family to iron out any problems that may occur. She lives in the Flushing School District and started hosting students in 1995. Some of them attended Carman-Ainsworth because Flushing was full.

Bouchard forged lifetime bonds. She is planning trips this summer and next summer to visit her former students. She’s hosted students from Germany, Denmark, Finland and South Korea.

The upcoming school year is YFU’s 60th year, Bouchard said. Its Michigan founders started the group after World War II to mend relationships between the United States and Germany. Today, most students still come from Germany but the organization has spread globally.

Host families might be shying away for fear of the cost but exchange students pay a lot of their own expenses including clothing and socializing, she said. A host family is required to provide a bedroom, three meals a day and a place to study. They also must include the foreign student in family outings.

Families interested in hosting can call the toll-free-number at 1-866-4YFUUSA or visit the web site at www.yfuusa.org to fill out an application online.

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