June 3, 2022

Greenheart Exchange Program in need of host families for exchange students

Since 1985 the Greenheart Exchange Program has been 
working with countrie3s from all over the world helping
to bring in thousands of international students into United
States classrooms.
By Masha Yurkevich

Every year, there are about 68,000 students who apply to be exchange students and since 1985, the non-profit Greenheart Exchange Programs has been helping with just that. Working with countries from all over the world, Greenheart helps bring in thousands of international students into United States classrooms each year. Kathy Hansen of Windham has been a part of Greenheart for 37 years; she is a regional director of Greenheart and a local coordinator.

As more students are applying to the exchange programs, there is a high demand for host families. Part of the reason that there are so many students who are applying for an exchange program is the situation that is happening in Ukraine currently. As people flee for safety and security, many students come to the U.S. to be exchange students.

“Right now,” said Hansen, “we need host families to help out Poland.”

At the moment, there are more than three million Ukrainian refugees in Poland after fleeing from war back at home. Many of these apply to be exchange students.

When Kathy first started hosting exchange students, she had five children of her own.

“Any extra money we had,” said Hansen, “we were saving for college. I wanted my children to get the world more, but it was difficult to travel. So I just brought the world to them.”

Hansen said that the three main reasons that people don’t host exchange students is time, money and space.

“It’s the size of our hearts, not the size of our house or our pocketbook that truly matters,” said Hansen. “These students are here to make lifelong friendships and to be part of a family.”

Being an exchange student helps students see that while life is different everywhere, teenagers are all so similar and enjoy many of the same things.

It also helps exchange students see how America works and clear up any misunderstandings that they might have about the country. Exchange students also benefit American students by showing them that there is so much more in the world than what we know.

“It is rewarding to see students from the United States connect and watch that awareness grow,” said Hansen.

 While opening up your home for an exchange student is beneficial for the student, there are also many benefits for host family itself. First and foremost, it is a great way to get to know the culture, the country and to be more culturally aware.

“Being a host family erases a lot of misunderstanding about cultures, biases and prejudices,” said Hansen.

Hansen said that the situation in Ukraine that is happening right now is a perfect example of why we need to do this, to give us an understanding.  

Pam Carter, history teacher at Windham High School, has hosted five students. This year, she and her husband hosted Ledion Hoti from Kosovo and Nour Humaid from Gaza. Previously, they have also hosted Bahriddin from Tajikistan, Kirill from Ukraine, and Begum from Turkey.

“Hosting an exchange student is like taking a vacation without having to pay,” said Carter.

“The host family learns so much about other cultures, religions and foods. Every student that we have hosted has come from a city, and every one of them has left with a deep appreciation for the ocean, lakes and forests of Maine.”

Because all these students are from different countries where English may not be the first and dominant language, a host family gets to learn and practice a new language. Being a host family also gives you more empathy, more understanding and a sense of public diplomacy. Every nation has their own problems and faces their own difficulties, but at the end of the day, we are all people and we are all united in one way or another. But perhaps the biggest and most important benefit of being a host family is that it gives you an instant family from the other side of the world. Not only will you be making a lifelong friend, but you will be making a lifelong family.

So what does being a host family include? Well, it should first be noted that being a host family does not mean that you need to take in an exchange student for a full school year. There is an option for a welcome family, which takes in an exchange student for two to six weeks until a family for that student is found. There is also the option of hosting an exchange student for a full semester, which is about five months, or two semesters, which is ten months.

Being a host family is just a matter of providing meals for the exchange student, getting them back and forth to school and giving them a loving and welcoming home by making them a part of your family. Anything you would normally do with your family, you would also do with the exchange student.

“In order to host an exchange student, you need to be 26+ (or should I replace “+” with “and older) and need to pass the background check, which Greenheart pays for,” said Hansen.

Kathy said that they are always looking for people to be local coordinators who have a little extra time and would want to work with exchange students. A local coordinator is responsible to advocate for the students and to check in with them to make sure that they are adjusting well.

“For me, I wanted my kids to know that it was more than just them in the world and so show them that there is more than just our culture,” said Hansen.

If you are interested in becoming a host family and host an exchange student, please contact Kathy Hansen at khansen@greenheart.org or call 207-653-1007. You can also visit the Greenheart website at https://greenheart.org/. <

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