Monday, May 13, 2013

Bring the world home as a host family with CCI Greenheart by Michelle Libby

There are a lot of reasons not to be a host family, but Windham resident Kathy Hansen can counteract every one of those and place a foreign exchange student in a home, and make it a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

“Anyone can host,” said Hansen, who has been working with CCI Greenheart for 27 years. “It’s been a wonderful journey,” she said. The mother of five children and grandmother to 13 between the ages of 16 to 3 weeks old, Hansen began working with exchange students when she allowed her son Jon the experience of being an exchange student through AFS.

“When Jon was a junior in high school I had no money. There was no way I could take the kids to travel, so I brought the world to my kids,” she said.

Jon has since travelled all over the world and married a woman from Lithuania. “We’re very worldly,” Hansen said.

There are a lot of rules to having an exchange student live with a family, most of which are governed by the Department of State. Each student needs their own bed, not their own bedroom though. “They can’t sleep on the couch in the living room,” said Hansen.

Each family, after a lengthy application, is vetted, has a background check and a home visit, before the family can even see the files of the exchange students.

Families who host can’t be on any government welfare, can’t have a felon living in the house, must have a clean home, (“My standard isn’t really high,” said Hansen.) and everyone in the family must be in agreement that this is what they want to do. The only cost to the family is to feed the student.

CCI Greenheart also has liability insurance if something should happen. If a placement turns out to be the wrong fit, Hansen said, the student could be moved.

All of the students coming to the US have high grades and speak English well. The students are selected out of 45,000 applicants for a grant given by the US Department of State. The exchange students are required to live up to a code of conduct. No smoking, no sex, no drinking or they’ll be on the next plane home, said Hansen. “They represent CCI Greenheart, their country and their family,” said Hansen. It’s embarrassing to get sent home. The students bring their own spending money, she added.

They come from all over the globe, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Germany and Spain, to name a few. There is a Palestinian boy at Bonny Eagle this year, who gives talks about a 16-year-old’s perspective on the conflicts in the Middle East.

“We have no sides, we’re neutral,” Hansen said. The advantage to CCI Greenheart is that they’re environmentally conscious. “They come over here and we do volunteer projects,” Hansen said.
The students and families are monitored and visited four times a year, but Hansen touches base with them often.

There is an orientation with the students where all of the expectations are laid out. “We instill pride in them for their country and instill pride for them being here,” she said.

Hansen is the regional director and local coordinator for New England. There are six exchange students in Windham, 50 in Maine and 31 of those are in Southern Maine.

Windham has openings for exchange students for the upcoming year. Seven families are going through the application process at this time. But there is room for more.

“We don’t want to burden families,” Hansen said. The local coordinator acts as a mediator on any tricky subjects. “I’m really good at this. I advocate for my host family.” Students can go on vacation with host families or stay with friends. “You treat the student like your own kids,” she said. 

The statistics are that only seven percent go home, some because of homesickness, others death in the family. No one stays who wants to leave.

“We want everyone to have a good experience,” Hansen concluded.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.