Crossing borders to Florence
Community members open their homes to international students for the 2021-22 school year
Sept. 15, 2021 — For more than 35 years, the International Student Exchange (ISE) program has prioritized growth and development amongst high school students from around the globe. In the current 2021-22 academic year, a total of 92 out of 2,400 students from overseas have been placed in Oregon to live with host families and attend public and private institutions. Of the 92 students, one high school student from Valladolid, Spain, recently arrived in Florence and has found herself a new home with a host family in the Florence community.
Historically, ISE has sponsored nearly 3,000 students each year. According to the program's mission statement, the value behind the experience is to build relationships between exchange students, host families, and local communities to encourage “peaceful, cooperative international relations.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, about 240 students participated in the program last fall.
According to ISE Regional Manager Pascale Dunton, about 20 students were in Oregon during that time. Since then, the international student attendance has more than tripled.
In early September, Florence community members Mindy Enlow and her daughter Jaiden welcomed their first international exchange student, Itziar Carro, into their home.
After a summer of traveling, the Enlow family became eager to explore different cultures beyond the U.S., they said. Later on, they learned about the ISE program through a family friend and felt compelled to get involved and proceeded with the application process.
After their application status and screening were finalized, this made Mindy and Jaiden one of 1,000 host families involved in the program. In addition, they are the only active host family in the Florence area since before the pandemic surfaced.
Carro is scheduled to live here for about one year while attending the local Siuslaw High School. Her purpose for participating in the program is to immerse herself in the Enlow family, the American culture and the Florence community.
“I’m really excited. I thought I was going to be more nervous, and more sad, but I'm really happy and excited for the next year, because it's going good with their family,” Carro said. “I think the people here are more open.”
In total, Lane County has three host families and three international exchange students this year. Another student, Isaac Tsang, a high school senior based in Eugene from Hong Kong, had originally planned to move last summer. Due to COVID-19 regulations, he postponed his ISE experience and arrived about a month ago.
“It’s much quieter and less crowded, but [Oregon has] this other beautifulness in it,” Tsang said. “I would recommend this experience to other students because from a cultural perspective, you're able to learn or enhance your other language and learn more of different cultures across the world.”
The ISE program seeks to place foreign exchange students with families who are the best fit, Dunton said.
After traveling from Europe and Asia, both Carro and Tsang felt comfortable and ready when they began living with their host families to take on their first days in American classrooms.
It's less about the location of where students are placed in the U.S., Dunton explained. “Students have wonderful experiences in very remote rural places,” she said. “It is the family and the school that make the program successful.”
Urban areas, such as Portland, have higher population rates, so more host families are available and involved in the program. However rural areas like Florence, have a lower population with fewer families who may not be aware of the program.
There are currently three exchange students in Lane County and three others in Vernonia, located in the Northern Oregon area.
Since the Enlows have been involved, it’s been “amazing,” they said. “We’re excited to learn about the [Spanish] culture.”
As Carro arrived, the Enlows said they felt overwhelmed, but were equally excited and eager to have an international student living with them in their home.
For Mindy, her involvement in the program has felt rewarding in unique ways after connecting with Carro’s parents.
“It makes me emotional,” she said. “From a parent's perspective, I get the full understanding of their [Carro’s parents] gratitude. That part of it is a huge privilege to me. It’s just an incredible opportunity, and I'm in awe right now at the whole process.”
Based on ISE’s program policies, international students are asked to spend holidays, birthdays and special events with their host families.
According to Bruce Haines, Tsang’s host dad and an ISE area representative, the three students from Lane County will gather about once a month to hang out and check-in with one another.
Students become “a part of the family,” he adds.
“You’re a part of the family now,” the Enlows told Carro as they welcomed her to their house.
The ISE program is continuously seeking host families who are interested in getting involved. It is open to all high school students, including American students who want to study abroad.
“For students in the U.S. interested, we have options to study abroad in Spain, France, the Netherlands, London, Italy, Germany, Norway, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand and Japan,” Dunton said.
In terms of affordability and rates for an American student looking to study abroad, the prices fluctuate and depend on the location, she added. Scholarships and fundraising opportunities are available through the program.
“I can say that some countries are more affordable than others. Japan is an extremely expensive country, and so Japan will be far more expensive than going to Spain, for example,” Dunton said. “I think Spain is absolutely doable.”
Over the years, host families and their students have continued to stay in touch, according to Dunton and Haines. Students have cultivated lifelong bonds and relationships with the people they live with and others in their American communities.
“This program shrinks borders, beyond the American borders. And that's so beautiful,” Dunton explained.
To learn more on how to get involved, contact Lane County’s ISE area representative Bruce Haines at [email protected]. For more information regarding the program, visit iseusa.org.