When Melanie Lawrence was in college, she studied abroad.
And now she’s bringing students from abroad to the Capital Region.
“I’m always interested in meeting people from other countries and getting to know them,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence is one of the local coordinators for Global Friendships, a foreign exchange program with offices in Maryland and New Jersey. She is responsible for finding families in Albany and Schenectady counties to host 15 exchange students and one adult chaperone from the coastal Spanish city of Barcelona this summer.
This is the first year Lawrence, an earth science teacher at Johnstown High School, has served as a local Global Friendships coordinator. Her colleague, Deb Messner, is in her sixth year of recruiting host families for Global Friendships.
“I was an exchange student,” Messner said. “So someone did that for me.”
Lawrence’s students will be in the Capital Region from June 27 to July 24. During their stay, Lawrence will teach the students English and take them on day trips. She said they’ll be busy four days a week, with three days devoted to class and a trip on the fourth day.
Lawrence said she is having a difficult time finding host families. So far, she has found just two.
“The economy might be an issue,” she said.
But she stressed that the exchange student program is designed to make hosting easy on families. The students bring their own spending money, medical insurance and can share a room with another teenager of the same gender. Host families are asked to provide three meals a day, one of which is a bagged lunch, and a bed.
Potential host families are interviewed by the local Global Friendships coordinator and must provide references. There have to be at least two people in the household who are related by blood or marriage.
Messner is coordinating visits from two groups of students from Spain for Global Friendships. She has 10 students coming between June 30 and July 28, and 10 students coming from Aug. 1 through Aug. 28. She said she still needs five families for the July group, and eight families for August, and that she’s confident she’ll find them. “People ask me ‘What do you do if you don’t find enough families?’” said Messner, who lives in Schoharie. “And I say, ‘I do.’ I’ve never had a student coming and I didn’t know where they were going to stay.” She said she is looking for host families within a “comfortable driving radius” — no farther than about two hours away.
Messner teaches Spanish at Johnstown High School, and many of her students will meet the exchange students and get to know them.
“Not all of my students can travel,” Messner said. “This is a way to bring a little bit of Spain to them.”
Fresh Air option
Also seeking volunteer host families in the Capital Region is the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides low-income New York City children with vacations during the summer.
Tricia Barkman is the Fresh Air Fund’s Schenectady County coordinator. Her parents hosted Fresh Air children for 47 years, and she has been hosting since 2006. Growing up, “I had a summer sister along with my own siblings,” she recalled.
Barkman said she hopes to find 15 families in Schenectady County to host children this summer.
“We need as many host families as possible,” she said. “We never run out of children to bring up here.”
Barkman said that Fresh Air children can participate in the program through their 18th birthday, provided they take their first Fresh Air vacation between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. The majority of children spend one or two weeks with their host families.
“We ask families to invite these children into their homes and have them become part of their family,” Barkman said. She said the families should provide enriching experiences for the children, but there’s no need to be extravagant. “They can do things like go hiking,” she said. “We want to get the children into another environment. ... For the host, it’s one week of time that will go real quick. But it could make a lifelong impression on a Fresh Air child.”
Face the world
The California-based Face the World Foundation is seeking Capital Region families to host exchange students between the ages of 15 and 18 during the upcoming school year, for either one semester or two.
“We want the host family to treat their exchange student like their own child,” said Michelle Pomales, who is recruiting families in New York to host students out of Face the World’s regional office in Michigan. “We want the students to experience the real America, not the Hollywood America. We want them to meet hardworking people who love their kids, to try American food and become part of the family. We don’t want them to be treated like a guest.”
Pomales said that the students bring their own spending money.
“The families have already done enough by opening their own home,” she said.
For more information
For more information about hosting for Global Friendship, contact Melanie Lawrence at 209-6835 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on hosting exchange students during the school year for the Face the World Foundation, call 1-888-281-9774.
For more information on the Fresh Air Fund, call 1-800-367-0003, or visit www.freshair.org.