Exchange student program regaining interest following pandemic; here’s how to host

Published 12:38 am Saturday, July 8, 2023

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Renee Bailey and her family have hosted six foreign exchange students from Montenegro, Germany, France and Spain. This year, another student from Spain will join them.

“My kids love it,” said Bailey, regional manager for Bayou International Student Exchange. “It’s a way for them to gain siblings. We have a hashtag — we grow by country. They love their host brothers and sisters. We don’t say ‘exchange.’ They become family.”

And it’s an experience Bailey is hoping more families experience as they begin growing the program following the pandemic.

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“It’s been a little slow the last couple of years,” Bailey said. “Families who have hosted for years want to wait a little bit, and new families want to know what kind of screenings the students have.”

Bailey works in the Gulf Coast, stretching from Houston to Mississippi.

Families can host students for five, 10 or 12 months. The most common, she said, is 10 months so the exchange student can experience a full school year.

Five-month programs run from January to May or August to December.

The students bring with them their own spending money and health insurance.

Ramazan, left, and Luis, right, stand with their host parent, Derek, center. (Courtesy photo)

“To me, our kids learn a little about what independence is. They’re raised differently than our kids,” Bailey said. “And they learn a new language a little bit.”

But the best part, she added, is introducing students from other countries to American foods.

“They cannot get over our food. Even just going to Popeye’s to throwing down jambalaya and gumbo.”

And in turn, Bailey hosts a “friendsgiving,” where exchange students and their host families gather to try native dishes made by the students.

Currently the goal is to recruit more host families.

“Usually between May and June, interest decreases because people are focusing on graduation and family vacations,” Bailey said. “We don’t like to tell anybody no. We will place up until the deadline in September.”

According to information from International Student Exchange, host families are required to:

  • Treat the student like a family member
  • Exercise parental responsibility
  • Provide a quiet place for the child to study
  • Provide the student with a room that has an exit window, bed and storage and no roommate of the opposite sex
  • Provide three meals each day
  • Acknowledge birthdays and other occasions
  • Provide the student with a way to contact family members
  • Provide progress reports and comply with home visits

Bailey said, on average, they place 50-75 students each year.

“They’re not here to vacation; they’re here to exchange life — both the host family and the student,” she said. “Ultimately they’re here for school. They’re here to better their English. All the students make really good grades.”

International Student Exchange also has a study abroad program that places students from the U.S. in other countries.

For more information, email or call 337-274-7516.