Hailing from more than 60 countries, including Ecuador, Denmark, France, Thailand, Japan, Morocco and Spain, Ayusa students are proficient in English and come to the United States with their own insurance and spending money.
In order to participate in the program, they must have a qualifying GPA and come recommended by their teachers and community members.
Hosts may specify the gender and nationality they wish their student to be, as well as interests they hope to have in common, and Ayusa will do its best to make appropriate matches.
Hosts may also view profiles of Ayusa students and make a selection themselves.
“It’s really nice to incorporate a little different culture in your home,” said Valarie, who recalled how Janita prepared Norwegian food for her and Deanna and Monica, who were 17 and 20 at the time, respectively.
Though Monica was away at college during Janita’s stay and came home on weekends, Deanna and Janita attended school together at Franklin Academy and spent a great deal of time with one another, even visiting Lake Placid, Albany and Montreal’s Jazz Festival.
“They literally thought of each other as sisters,” Valarie said.
HARD TO SAY GOODBYE
In addition to working with hosts and their guests for the duration of the program, Ayusa representatives arrange for exchange students to attend a local school.
While most spend the entire school year with their host families, according to Edenzon, some choose to visit for only a semester.
Participating in the program, she noted, is a great way for host families, exchange students and members of local communities to learn about the similarities and differences between their culture and another.
“You have to really work on problem solving and trying to understand the other person’s perspective,” Edenzon said.
Still, Valarie noted, “the hardest part of the program is saying goodbye.”