Homes sought for exchange students

ttuell@sierrastar.comJuly 16, 2013 

Four foreign students are ready for the experience of a lifetime — a 10-month cultural and educational exchange in the United States. They already speak English and are eager to learn more about American culture — All they need now is a place to stay.

The exchange is being made possible through Inter-Ed, a non-profit organization out of Clovis. Students will have their own spending money, medical and dental insurance. All host families need to provide is a home, a bed, three meals a day and a loving environment.

Students will arrive four to five days before school starts in August. Host families can sign up for the whole school year, one semester, or even a trial three-week period.

Cheryl Gomes Williams, area coordinator and marketing representative, has placed more than 350 students over the last 10 years and has had 76 exchange students stay in her own home.

"Host families are not only taking on a student, but a whole new adventure in their life," she said. "It's a great opportunity."

Steve and Jeri Carney, residents of North Fork, took on that adventure by hosting an exchange student last year. Savannah Wagner was a 17-year-old from Berlin, Germany and attended Yosemite High School.

The Carney's children are grown and no longer live at home, so Jeri said it was a new experience to have a high school age child in the house again. However, Jeri said it was a good experience.

"She was a very good kid and was always wanting to be helpful," Jeri said.

Because Wagner wanted to experience everything possible, they took her on a few California road trips to the beach and a couple amusement parks.

"The excitement she had for all things California — she wants to come back and live here, so it was nice to see her enthusiasm," Jeri said, adding that Wagner was very enthusiastic about learning everything American and even proudly wore patriotic shirts.

"She wanted to fit in the American way," Jeri said. "She was very pro-American and wanted to show her allegiance to America."

Jeri said she would recommend the experience to anyone interested in being a host parent.

"The program is very good and has a good support system," Jeri said. "It's an adventure, especially if you want to introduce your children to another culture and how to be helpful towards them."

Joel and Corrine Wilson and their son, Chris, and daughter, Beth — both students at Minarets — were part of that adventure last year when they took in a 15-year-old German exchange student named Vanessa Scharf.

Joel's family hosted an exchange student when he was young and they had always kept in touch, so the Wilsons thought it would be a good experience for their own family.

"We had a great experience," Corrine said.

The Wilsons are residents of Yosemite Lakes Park, so Scharf attended Minarets High School. She lived with them August 2012 through June 2013 and shared a room with Beth. Corrine said the experience was new for both Beth and Scharf, because Beth had never had to share a room and Scharf was an only child.

"As a family dynamic, it was a great experience," Corrine said. "We learned how to deal with someone that was very different from us. We're kind of 'nerdy,' and she's into Hollywood and movies."

Corrine said they learned fast how pervasive the Internet can be.

"She had ideas of Hollywood and California that had absolutely no reality of how we live," Corrine laughed.

However, Corrine said being a host family was a great learning experience for the whole family.

"By the time she left, we knew we weren't the same," Corrine said.

Scharf left in June, and Corrine said she wasn't ready to go home.

"She didn't want to go back and was crying," Corrine said. "She said people here were more accepting. She had a fantastic experience. Vanessa truly did want to learn and she learned a lot."

Families interested in hosting a student have the opportunity to look through each teen's profile and see which student would be the best fit for their family. To qualify as a host family, adults must undergo a background check, California Megan's Law list check, and a home interview. Because the program is governed through the state department, students will also be checked on periodically.

Those interested in becoming a host parent can call Cheryl Gomes Williams at (559) 940-4713 or email her at cheryl@inter-ed.org.

Details: www.inter-ed.org

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