The International Exchange Program is an incredible opportunity for students to come and be a part of your family. It is an extremely valuable time for both sides. Hosting a child is an educational and cultural experience for the whole family. The list includes students from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Belgium, Amsterdam and Japan, to name a few.
Paula Coll, certified family host and academic coordinator, tells us more about the program at Lake Nona High School and shares how you can get involved.
How long has Lake Nona had this program?
Lake Nona High School has had foreign exchange students for many years. This year, 10 students, mostly sophomores and juniors in high school, will get the opportunity to come to Lake Nona.
CHI, Cultural Homestay International, is a nonprofit organization helping four of these students come to America, but two of them still need a good home. This is an amazing way to be a part of something bigger and make a real difference. Good families are still needed.
How are families selected? What is the matching process?
We find families by reaching out to the community. CHI has 35 years of experience of screening and matching families. They give personal attention to each child. If a family is interested, they connect with a coordinator who helps match them. The students provide lots of information about themselves. For example: Hannah is from Germany, and she is 16. She likes horseback riding, crafts, cycling and art. She hopes to be a vet one day. She says she loves to laugh and loves animals. If you would like to make a connection, it can enrich your home in unexpected and wonderful ways.
To prep the families and students, how do you prepare them for ways of life in a new country?
The students and families are given a detailed orientation and materials. They exchange letters and emails right away once they are matched. When the child enters the U.S., the host family will greet them at the airport with a big sign to make them feel welcome, and the journey begins. CHI keeps in contact with the students and families during the first week and then on a regular basis, so that everyone feels supported in a caring, loving environment.
When do they arrive and when do they leave? Do they go home for the holidays or spend them here?
The student arrives a week before school begins and leaves a week after school ends. They do not go home but enjoy and celebrate holidays with their host family. During the holidays, it is important to spend quality time and traditions together.
What are the benefits of the program?
The benefits are incredible. It’s like gaining a new member of your family. Francesca, she calls herself “F,” is coming over from Italy. She is 16 and loves math, gymnastics, volleyball and cooking, and wants to be an engineer one day. She says that this will be her first time in America, and she cannot wait to visit the beach with us by her side. I feel the connection before we have even met. We email back and forth. She says she hopes we can have family volleyball matches and teach her “something” about baseball. I can’t wait to share experiences with her and learn of her culture as well. My grandparents are from Italy, and so it will be fun learning more of my heritage.
CHI believes that an experience like this is a critical educational component. This brave adventure gives them a better ability to overcome challenges, a deeper confidence in themselves, and an understanding of differences. This program can build bridges, create everlasting friendships, and ultimately can make the world a more peaceful place.
Could you share a success story from former students?
Theo was a student from France. Always excited to learn, he jumped at the opportunity to do something new. He approached challenges with an excitement and an energy that he made us excited! He was open, respectful and funny. He was a lot of things, but mostly he was grateful. We were grateful, too. He taught us many of his traditions along with all the rules of rugby. He would show off, too, and lift two of my girls in the air, one on each arm. He really gave us all a fresh perspective. He and his parents returned the following year and expressed their gratitude over and over and gave us an open invitation to come and stay with them anytime. Families really are forever grateful.
How can a family become a host?
Families can apply for THIS year by contacting Paula and Chris Coll: text/call (407) 929-2175 or email at PaulaColl333@gmail.com for any questions or for more information. While fulfilling the wish of a child, you may just find true fulfillment within your own experience.
Sophia Rogers leads The Rogers Team at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. She is a 15-year housing industry expert who specializes in selling Lake Nona real estate. Sophia can be reached at email@example.com.