Monday, August 16, 2010

Foreign Student Program Struggles

By Michael Martinez • • July 21, 2010
Reno Gazette Journal

The economy is causing fewer families to volunteer as hosts for foreign exchange students, according to a study by a national organization and local groups that arrange host homes for foreign student visitors.

The Center for Cultural Interchange, a, nonprofit student exchange organization based in Chicago, is actively soliciting host families for foreign exchange students for the 2010-11 school year, and is competing with local Rotary club student-exchange programs and the Northern Nevada International Center.

During the last few years, CCI has struggled to find families to host students for a year while the economy has been unstable. Many families are finding it hard to make the commitment, said group spokeswoman Shannan Bunting.

Joaquin Roces, international visitor leadership program coordinator for the Northern Nevada International Center, said families that reliably hosted foreign students from summer camp or academic year visits have dramatically declined.

"Our normal database has about 30-40 families in the Truckee Meadows area in the past," Roces said. "That has shrunk about three quarters, and we're down to about 10 families.

"The economy makes it a lot more challenging in our exchange programs," Roces said. "People are watching their expenditures a lot more and they are not as free with their disposable income and everybody is buckling down."

He said it holds true for the high school program and the adult/professional program.

"We're not like San Francisco, so something like that impacts our program significantly," Roces said.

He noted that Rotary clubs have run into similar circumstances.

Steve Mestre, who co-chaired the Downtown Rotary club's student exchange program for about a year and hosted five students himself, cited the economy and the mountains of paperwork that families must keep up with as an equal problem.

"It is expensive because you have to feed them like another member of the family and that's probably more so in the year-round programs," said Mestre, who is the incoming president of the Rotary Club of Reno.

"Now that there are all these federal mandates to do background checks on host families, the school districts are requiring more paperwork, so it's harder to get volunteers willing to go through all that.

"So these programs are struggling and I believe they are in jeopardy," he said.

But Mestre also touted their value as vital bridges to cultural understanding and international relations.

That's what motivated Toni Harris to play host to a pair of the students from the contingent of Algerian and American high schoolers in a summer camp through the NNIC.

"Part of my responsibility was to help find families to host 25 of these students," Harris said. "I sent out e-mails but, with exception of a couple of people, I didn't get any responses, and I sent out e-mails to people I knew had room."

Harris' twin sons, graduates of Reno High School, both participated in the People-to-People international travel program.

"And it was a wonderful experience for them," she said.

She said the two girls she is hosting have started to feel at home, making their own meals.

"Even though they have different thing going on, I do take them on various ventures: I've taking them shopping, and take them places I think they would benefit from, but it doesn't cost me anything to really do it," Harris said. "The school or state or whoever is sponsoring them gives them a stipend.

"It's been rewarding," she said.

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