Exchange program seeks host families, volunteers

A student exchange program is asking Seneca County families to consider becoming a host family for the 2017-18 school year.

Youth For Understanding is one of the oldest and largest intercultural exchange programs, placing hundreds of international exchange students with families across the U.S.

“YFU is here to help expose Americans to teens from other parts of the world and expose them to the American culture,” Jamie Withem, field director for Ohio, said. “These students become part of your family.”

Withem works to build relations with the schools and community as a way to provide local support for the students and host families.

Withem said she helps to best match students with families based on a student’s and family’s needs, such as activities, interests, whether there are any allergies or the student and/or families are faith based.

“We want to try to look at matching the best possible student with the best possible family to have a good success rate and both do well together,” she said.

Withem and her husband, Rick, have been involved with YFU since 1998, when they hosted their first exchange student. Since then, they have hosted 11 students and have remained in constant contact with most of them, even have some return to be part of family gatherings.

“We have enjoyed hosting every time and hosting different students from different areas of the world,” Withem said.

One of her favorite aspects about hosting is being able to see the student develop before them.

“You can see when they first come here they are unsure, but as the year or semester goes on, you then get to see their confidence grow,” she said. “The students get to learn from you and you in turn get to learn from them.”

Withem said families get a chance to become globally minded people and get the exposure to other cultures they may not have gotten a chance to experience.

“You get a chance to step out of your comfort zone,” she said.

YFU is volunteer based. Withem said they have 120 volunteers all over the state and are always looking for individuals willing to help.

Through YFU, families can host international students, American students can study abroad and even adults can take part in adult exchange programs. Special scholarship opportunities are also available for students.

Anyone interested in becoming a host family, become a volunteer or to learning more about the YFU program can visit yfuusa.org or contact Withem at (567) 855-5196.

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