The most common worry among families who consider taking in a foreign exchange student is that their lives are too boring. Dawn Keck, a local coordinator for Northwest Services student exchange program, said that’s rarely a problem.
“I was worried about the same thing with my first student, but it’s really not the case,” Keck said. “The student is not looking for extravagance, and you don’t have to take them to everything.”
Northwest Services is based in Boise, but places exchange students all over the country. Keck is one of the program’s Spokane coordinators and last year she helped place 30 students with families in and around Spokane.
“The first year, I placed six students and then it just took off from there,” Keck said. “I enjoy it and none of my students has gone home yet.”
It’s not too late to sign up as a host family for an exchange student this year. Students typically arrive two weeks before school starts and they are between 15 and 18 years old.
“Most are placed as juniors in the local high schools,” Keck said.
About half are European, with the other half evenly distributed between Asia and South America, and most stay for a full school year.
Keck said it’s not just traditional families who may qualify to host foreign students.
“It’s OK if you are single, or if you are grandparents and want to host someone who’s your grandkid’s age,” Keck said.
Families apply online and then go through background and reference checks, as well as a home visit, and they stay connected with Northwest Services as long as a student is living with them. The family also has a say in who to host.
“They can look at the student profiles online,” Keck said.
Her job is to help match the student with a family. She talks to the family about its expectations and everyday stuff, like which chores the exchange student will be expected to do.
“Maybe I have a really active family that likes to ski and do outdoor stuff,” Keck said, “then I try to find them a very active student.”
Keck and her family have hosted students from Italy and Asia.
“The young woman from Asia was a Buddhist – that was very different but also very interesting,” Keck said.
“What we look for is the home environment, that it’s a good match,” Keck said. “It really is a lot of fun.”