Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Columbus Family Hosts Exchange Students

“They become part of our family.”

By Shelly Burke, Editor

The Drozd family made the decision to host an exchange student very quickly. Cheryl Drozd remembers, “We read about exchange students in the church bulletin several years ago. Our daughter Natalie, who has two younger brothers, thought it would be neat to have a sister for a year. Within just a few weeks we had gone from not knowing anything about having an exchange student, to hosting one!”

Natalie Drozd, now 13 years old, had a great time with her “big sister.” Cheryl says, “They had so much fun together! They stayed up late at night, talking and giggling together, just like sisters.”

“Then our son Cameron (now age 10) thought it would be neat to have a big brother to help him improve his soccer game, so for the next two years we hosted boys from Italy.

This year we are hosting a boy from Germany. He’s coming from France to play American football.”

Ben, age 7, also enjoys having host students in the home. They are like part of the family, according to Cheryl. “They help with chores, just like our children do. They also help with projects around the house. It’s neat to look at a room and remember that an exchange student helped us paint it.”

Cheryl says one misconception families have is that they should wait until their own children are in high school before hosting an exchange student. The Drozds have always hosted students who are older than their children. Cheryl explains the student selection process; “Students are chosen to go overseas only after they’ve filled out an application, they and their parents have written letters (about why the student should be considered) and they’ve received recommendations from teachers. They really want to go overseas. They are good examples for our children; they follow all of the ‘family’ rules—helping around the house, going to church, and so on. They know that they will be expected to do this, so it’s not a surprise to them.”

To be an exchange student, the child must be between the ages of 15 and 19 and have good grades in school. Families choose the student they want to host based on that student’s age, interests, etc.

Exchange students are required to have taken at least 5 years of English, so communicating is not a problem. The Drozd family asks their student to teach them one word of their native language every evening at supper, and every evening they review the words they’ve learned.

Cheryl says that students typically find America to be “much more rushed” than their lives at home. “We try to slow down for one night each week, and on that night the student shares his or her culture with us—we eat what they would typically eat (sometimes the student cooks for us) and we talk about their culture.”

Every year Cheryl coordinates 7-10 exchange students and their families in eastern Nebraska, including the Columbus, Fremont, Lincoln and Omaha areas. Families choose the student they wish to host, and Cheryl coordinates the process. She also contacts the student, the host parents, and the school every month to be sure everything is running smoothly and the student is doing well in school. Cheryl acts as a mentor and meets with the family and the student if there are any issues.

The host family is expected to provide the student with a bed, meals in the home, and a ride to school (students are not allowed to drive while they’re in the United States). Students are prepared to pay for any outside activities—tickets to sporting events, meals eaten out of the home and any personal items.

Students usually spend an entire year with the host family, although occasionally they stay for just one semester.

Cheryl would like to place several more students with host families by the end of August. If you are considering hosting an exchange student, call Cheryl at (402) 563-0699 or e-mail her at itsdrozd@frontiernet.net. Cheryl will talk with you on the phone or set up an in-person meeting to answer all of your questions, and put you in touch with other host families. If now is not the right time for you to host a student, but you’re interested in learning more, Cheryl will be happy to answer your questions.

The Drozd family obviously enjoys hosting students from different countries. Cheryl says, “The experience is life changing for our whole family. The host students become another family member, and we’ll think of them that way forever. We remember each others’ birthdays and send cards and letters at holidays. It’s such a neat relationship! We hope, someday, to be invited overseas to their weddings.”

(for more information go to STS Foundation-Students Traveling Schools – stsfoundation.org)

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