Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student
Let the World Come to You.
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The Ishmaels went online to the EF Foundation for Foreign Study website (effoundation.org) and filled out a lengthy questionnaire about family makeup, family activities and religious beliefs. The qualification process also included a thorough background check, a home visit and reference checks.
“We try to match the family and students with the similar interests. If a family has their children playing soccer and a foreign student plays, that might be a good host family for that student,” O’Brien said.
The Ishmaels shared emails and became Facebook friends with Karoline’s family. They turned a spare bedroom into “Karoline’s” room.
“I approached the situation like I would hope a family would do for Kelsey if she went abroad for a year,” Kelly said. “I created a bedroom for Karoline where she could have her own chest of drawers and a closet. And, if she wanted privacy, she could go to her bedroom. We gave her one of our laptops to use. She did share a bathroom with Kelsey but two girls can do that.”
Before the exchange students come to Tulsa, O’Brien holds a host family orientation to discuss school enrollment, classes and extra curricular activities. A month after the exchange students have settled into their new life, all Tulsa host families come together to network and exchange ideas.
“We give ongoing support to the students and their hosts. We contact them monthly and trained counselors are available to help with any concerns,” O’Brien said. “Once students get busy in school and get a routine, everything seems to work for them. The biggest change for many European exchange students is relying on the host family for transportation. In Europe mass transit is readily available. The students have more freedom to be out and about. Here, they must rely on their host parents to take them places.”
Kelsey and Karoline were in the same grade at school, thus shared classes, activities and friends.
Kelly said Karoline embraced everything American. “She loved the American experience from dances, high school football games, prom and the food.”
Karoline’s family traveled to Tulsa when the school year ended, and stayed in the Ishmael’s back apartment. They got to see first hand how their daughter had spent her exchange year.
“We enjoyed getting to know them and still email each other,” Kelly said. “The whole experience was a good thing. We are happy we could give her a year that changed her life and she will always have those memories. “
Kelsey said the experience of sharing her home and parents was a good thing. “I learned patience and how to let someone else be a part of my family’s life, day in and day out. I believe I am now ready to go to college and have a roommate.”