“I was an exchange student when I was 16,” Morningstar Helvey said. “I went to Chile, in South America. It was an amazing experience, and I’m still friends with my host family. Some of the friends I made down there, I still stay in touch. It was a really fabulous experience.”
Helvey, who is the local coordinator for International Cultural Exchange Services, is looking for four families in total to host students from Germany, Spain, Japan and Taiwan. Their ages range from 16 to 17. The reasons they chose Oregon differ, from being able to visit families, interest in outdoor activities and one boy who said he just liked the rain.
The Siuslaw region is a perfect fit for cultural exchange, Helvey said, because of its mixture of nature and community that represent some of the best aspects of American culture.
“For me, being someone who has recently moved to Florence, I think it’s the allure of the beautiful surroundings,” she said.
“There’s so many different opportunities between hiking, the lakes, the beach and the ocean,” Helvey continued. “And then the people here are so nice and welcoming and friendly. It’s just a nice, positive community.”
As to what type of families would work to host a student, “Any family could be a good fit,” Helvey said. “Anywhere from your typical family of a mom and dad, and maybe some kids. We have also placed students with a single parent before that has kids. Kids of different ages work, they don’t have to be teenagers. They could be little kids up to preteen, up to teen. We’ve even had families host that are single and have no kids.”
Of particular interest would be empty nesters of any age who have experience with teenagers and the resources to help. “We have had so much success with them,” Helvy said.
According to Helvey, there are various reasons why families sign up to host. Some do it to learn more about family history, requesting students from countries that their families had once lived. But for most, it’s about growing their current family.
“You get another family member,” Helvey said, adding that one host family she spoke with was in tears when their student left. “She’s been a part of the family. They woke up this morning to find the host student filled their house with thank-you notes on balloons and give them nice gifts, saying their hearts will always be connected. So I guess you get to learn a different culture, and gain a new family member and friend that you can stay in touch with forever.”
Host families can choose students for either one semester or two.
“The student would live with them as part of their family,” Helvey said. “Whatever the family dynamic was, they would kind of embrace the exchange student as a member of the family and integrate them into their daily routine.”
The hosts would not be left to their own devices, as Helvey and the cultural exchange stay in touch with the families and students at least once a month.
“I would be in touch with them to navigate through language and personal struggles, though many of our students have really good English skills,” she said.
Helvey also plans to host group activities with all the exchange students and their families throughout the year to prevent isolation.
Students come with their own medical insurance and spending money to cover all personal expenses, while host families provide room and board.
For more information on the program, contact Helvey at 775-671-7992.