With students heading back to school in a little over six weeks, the Wilton Rotary Club is still seeking two host families for its exchange student from Japan. Three families are needed — to host the student for about three months each — and one family has signed on so far.
This year’s student is a 16-year-old girl named Elise, who has studied English all her life. She will be either a freshman or sophomore when she enrolls at Wilton High School, according to Elizabeth Edwards, who is in charge of coordinating the families.
The experience is “incredibly rewarding for them,” Edwards said of participating families. “They feel they have really made a contribution to a young woman or man’s life.”
Libby Nagle would agree. She and her family hosted a Chilean student — Lucy — last fall.
“We had a good experience,” she told The Bulletin on Monday, adding they knew a bit about what to expect since their daughter Erin had gone on a Rotary exchange to Ecuador the year before.
“We had an idea of what would work and not, based on her experience, as well as things she had heard from kids in Ecuador who had been in the U.S.”
One of the biggest keys to success for an exchange student is to get involved in both school and the community, and that is why Rotary seeks families with children in school to introduce them to friends and explain the way things work.
Nagle’s daughter Erin, a freshman in college last year, was still home for several weeks after Lucy arrived, and her son Brian was a senior at Wilton High.
Nagle said there were no communication problems with Lucy and she “right away became one of the family. From our perspective, we got exposure to another culture. She made some of their common dishes. We were able to experience her culture as much as she was experiencing ours.”
Another advantage, Nagle said, was that Lucy’s visit “gave us an incentive to take some trips and do things we might not do otherwise,” including a long weekend to Washington, D.C., and visits to New York City.
Nagle said some families might be reluctant to participate because they view it as having a long-term guest, but she said you “treat them just as another child. They help set the table — you’re not waiting on them.”
She said sometimes she worried Lucy might not be having a good time, but her daughter Erin reminded her “these are high school kids and they need to make the exchange what they want it to be.”
And there were bouts of homesickness, particularly at holidays, but Lucy worked through it.
When asked if she would recommend hosting Nagle said “absolutely. It’s really good for the kids in the family to get exposure to these other cultures, to recognize things in the rest of the world are not like they are in Wilton or Fairfield County. You get to learn about another culture without having to go there.”
Rotary offers the following guidelines for families considering hosting:
- The family should have a good reputation and be able to provide support necessary for the student to become acclimated into the family, school and the American culture.
- The family must have a level of financial and other resources to provide for the basic reasonable needs of the student including meals and transportation to/from school and other required activities.
- The family must provide a separate bed (not convertible or inflatable); adequate storage space for clothing and personal belongings; reasonable access to a bathroom and study space. Student may share a bedroom but with no more than one individual of same sex.
- Students have their own medical and personal liability insurance.
- The local Rotary club provides the student with a small, monthly allowance. The student’s natural parents are responsible for most other expenses.
- Interested families will be interviewed (including an in-home visit) by a Wilton Rotary Club member. The family is required to submit an application, waiver for background check, and to attend a host family information session.