(Posted April 5, 2017)
By Noell Wolfgram Evans, Staff Writer
Twelve years ago, Ginger Cichy’s understanding of the world expanded when she opened her home to a high school foreign exchange student for the year. It was an experience that changed her life, so much so that she went from hosting students to working for the organization that places students with families around the world.
Cichy and Twyla McNamara, area residents and coordinators with EF High School Exchange Year, recently worked their way across Madison County, extolling the benefits of hosting foreign exchange students.
EF works with families around the globe, bringing interested students ages 15-18 to spend a year of high school with an American family. Cichy and McNamara say it is a perfect opportunity to experience exposure to other countries and establish lifetime relationships. There is no need to worry about a language barrier. Cichy said all students are required to speak English while they are living in America.
When students join the program, they fill out an extensive questionnaire that includes their interests and what they hope to gain from the experience. Once the applications are reviewed, EF puts the applicants through a strict interviewing and vetting process. Host families also have an interview session with EF.
Once satisfied that everyone is able to get the most from the opportunity, a local EF team member matches students and families. It’s a fine art, pairing people who are worlds apart and creating, at least for a moment, a new type of family.
Cichy and McNamara shared stories from their own experiences, as well as from others in the program who have formed lasting bonds with their students/families. Many stay in contact and even visit each other long after their contracted period of time together is over.
Cichy, a Marysville resident, stays in touch with all of the students her family has hosted, including the very first, a young lady from New Zealand. McNamara and her husband, Dan, long-time Madison County residents, became EF coordinators because it presents “a neat adventure” and chance to reconnect with the community.
McNamara stressed that, for families and students, there is a lot of the support during the year.
“There are monthly check-ins, both locally and through phone calls with the home office in Boston. You definitely are not on your own during your time together,” she said.
Applications are being accepted from families and single adults interested in hosting foreign exchange students. Madison County is an ideal location for some of the students in the program, McNamara said, because they are looking for a “real, American experience.”
Host families are responsible for giving their exchange student their own bed, a dedicated study space, and a packed lunch every day. Students are responsible for any direct, hard costs (like going to the movies or taking part in a school-sponsored activity), as well as their personal items. This arrangement takes away any material pressures and allows the students and their host families to form a natural bond, away from trying to impress with the latest “must haves,” McNamara said.
EF High School Exchange Year is looking for host families for the 2017-18 school year. Interested Madison County residents should contact Twyla McNamara by April 15 at (614) 309-9265 or email@example.com.