The hunt is on for host families
Hosting a foreign exchange student improves global understanding, but fewer families are volunteering because of the poor economy.
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He adds, "Bringing a child here certainly outweighs what little extra costs there may be."Skip to next paragraph
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Students come with their own spending money and health insurance. They pay for clothes and school fees, Tibbett says, adding, "They eat meals with the family, go to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, and do what the family does."
Describing a typical host family, she says, "They're not rich people. They like to share in international interests. They like to let other countries know that Americans are good people."
Since 1960, American families who volunteer to host students through programs designated by the US Department of State have been entitled to a $50 monthly tax deduction for every month they host a student. "It's considered a contribution to a charitable organization, but it hasn't kept up with inflation," Doty says.
A bill before Congress would increase that deduction to $200 a month. "It shows that this is a very important activity in this country," says Doty. Most countries compensate host families.
After 9/11/2001, leaders of exchange programs were concerned that interest would drop. "But just the opposite happened," Doty says. "It grew." As one way to bridge cultures, a 2002 initiative funded by the State Department, the Youth Exchange and Study program gives scholarships to students from Muslim countries, among them Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, and Pakistan.
As Americans seek to improve their image abroad, some leaders of exchange groups see these programs as part of the solution.
"At the heart of it, the idea is, if we know each other better, we're not going to aim guns at each other," says John Hishmeh, executive director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel in Alexandria, Va.
"What we need to do," he adds, "is reinvigorate the concept of exchange in our society based on today's reality. We're trying to prepare our students for a global economy."
At the same time, he acknowledges that hosting is not for everyone. "Hosting is a commitment, not something you should enter into lightly."
Ms. Crotty describes it as "a decision you make depending on what your family circumstances are, how your kids are doing."
Ultimately, Crotty says, "It's really not an economic decision. People are doing it for the right reasons – having international exposure. Host families learn just as much as students do. It's such a wonderful symbiotic relationship. These family relationships stay for generations."