PLATTSBURGH — For Valarie Schulz and her daughters, hosting a Norwegian exchange student was an experience filled with cultural enlightenment and heartfelt connections.
“It makes me cry when I think about her,” Valarie said of Janita Hansen, who was 16 when she came to stay with the Schulzes in their Malone home for 10 months through Ayusa International in 2011.
The 30-year-old nonprofit organization is a U.S Department of State-designated exchange sponsor that offers cultural exchange and leadership programs for high-school students around the world.
Though Valarie was leery at first to open her home to a foreign stranger for an extended period of time, the experience had such a positive impact on her and her family that she now acts as a community representative for Ayusa, recruiting and providing support to area host families.
“It’s really great for the kids (daughters Deanna and Monica) and the family itself because it’s a connection you never let go of.
“I just can’t say enough good things about it,” Valerie said of the program, which is currently seeking families in Malone, North Bangor and Fort Covington to host exchange students ages 15 through 18 for the 2013-14 school year.
A LOVING HOME
“A host family is really anyone age 25 or older that is open to cultural exchange and can provide a loving home, three meals a day and a safe environment,” said Ayusa North East Regional Manager Kathy Edenzon.
Hosts, who must also provide students with either a private bedroom or one shared with a host sibling of the same gender, as well as necessary transportation, may include single individuals, retired couples, families with or without children, and gay couples.
“We really do want to expose our high-school exchange students to the full scope of what a family could be in America,” Edenzon said.