Living abroad in the West Valley: International students soak it up

Joy Christian School’s international program typically has 30 students enrolled from the around globe. This group of students kicked off the school year at the Joy Christian School International Student Orientation and Leadership Retreat in Heber, Arizona. From left to right: Miao from China, Mandy from Taiwan, Christopher from Arizona, Claudia from Spain, Colin from France, Daniel from Korea and Hannah from Arizona. [Submitted photo]

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

In the last month Peoria resident Kate Scidurlo has been experiencing a transition of sorts.

She recently welcomed Clara, 15, into their home. She is a foreign exchange student from Germany who will be living with the Scidurlos for the rest of the school year and attending Raymond S. Kellis High School, 8990 W. Orangewood Ave., Glendale, as a freshman.

Ms. Scidurlo, a school improvement program specialist at Estrella Middle School and former special education teacher, said she has been getting to  know Clara and looks forward to the new adventure they will share.

“I have always been passionate about travel and other cultures and as a teacher, I love kids! My husband and I decided to look into hosting an exchange student because we felt like it was a really cool way to get to know another culture,” she said. “We also felt that we can provide a safe and comfortable home and would love to support a student in their endeavors to understand our American way of life.”

Whether it is inbound students like Clara or outbound students interested in studying abroad in high school or college, young people at all educational levels have heard the call to study away from their home county.

Inbound foreign exchange students generally require either a F-1 visa or J-1 visa. Students with F-1 visas are required to show proof of economic sufficiency.

A substantial portion of funding for a J-1 visa recipient must be from a source other than personal assets, for example a school, scholarship or other organization and are therefore more usually affordable to inbound students, who are usually placed in a public school where they are not paying tuition. The J-1 visa is issued once in a student’s academic career and for a duration of one school year. Additionally, the host family can not be compensated for hosting.

Clara received a J-1 visa to live with the Scidurlo’s as her host family and study at Kellis High School for a year where she will be soaking up American culture.

About 24,000 international students received J-1 visas in the last school year so they could attend school in the United States.

To become a host family like the Scidurlo’s, participants must sign up with a designated sponsor organization that help with placement.

Jennifer Heusted-McKendree is the marketing manager Youth For Understanding USA, the sponsor that placed Clara with her host family.

She said the sponsor and host family must follow U.S. Department of State guidelines, which includes filling out a complete application, an in-home visit, background checks completed for anyone over the age of 18 who reside in the home, reference checks and an orientation session prior to the arrival of the student.

Students bring their own spending money and have heath insurance, Ms. Heusted-McKendree said.

“While accepting the student in as their own family member, our hosts provide a bed and place for the student to study.

Each family and student will have a YFU volunteer that works with them to ensure a good exchange experience,” she said. “We encourage families to select a student that matches their interests, as having common interests makes the adjustment period for families and the student easier.”

Chris Page, executive director of Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, said the number of students looking to study in the United States has increased dramatically in the last decade, largely in the F-1 Visa category, with about 6,000 F-1 visas issued in 2006 to about 60,000 of the same type visa issued in 2016. These visas are typically the most common visa issued to students who want to attend college in the U.S. However, he said, more students are using them to enroll in high school programs to benefit from the educational system in the United States.

“J-1 visa recipients typically have a host family that is not paid and a one-year cultural exchange through the state that is very heavily regulated. F-1 visa recipients are usually seeking to enroll in a university for an academic experience, but the demand for a United States education at the secondary level is increasing,” he said.

Nanase Toda, a Japanese exchange student at Joy Christian School, 21000 N. 75th Ave., Glendale, came to Arizona as a sophomore on an F-1 visa with the intention of staying here for one year on a scholarship program through the Tokyo Board of Education. However, she decided to stay and complete high school and eventually plans to attend college here.

Now she is a senior and hopes to pursue pharmaceutical research.

“I found a purpose here. At first I just wanted to learn English, but then I found my dream because medical studies are so advanced in America,” she said. “Then I can bring that knowledge back to my country and bring a broader perspective and bring out new ideas.”

Grace Keedy Anderson, international program director at Joy Christian, said there are pros and cons to studying abroad  in the United States. The school’s international program typically has 30 students enrolled from the around globe and focuses on personalized attention to each student and the importance of a well-rounded life by learning life skills through group travel.

She said great benefits include a command of the English language, learning a different school system and making life-long friends. The downside can be that when you go back, you are kind of lonely because of the singular experience you just had.

“When you leave here, you will have formed a third culture within yourself, because when you got here you were totally, Japanese, or German, or whatever. But when you go home after experiencing a year in America, when you go home you are a different kid. Not only are you different from your friends, but you are also different from your family,” she said. “But now you have that third culture within yourself and you can use that to your advantage or you can think of it as a disadvantage. But how do we take our experiences and turn them into a positive? Well, wherever you go now, you can adapt and you can be successful in any environment.”


Hosting a student
Here are two frequently asked questions if considering hosting a foreign exchange student.

Q: Are we good candidates for hosting?

A: Host families come in many shapes and sizes. There is no typical host family — families with teens, no children, young children, children who have grown, single parents and grandparents. Host families live in large cities, suburban areas, on farms and ranches, or in small communities. Students are also from diverse family situations.

Q: How will our family benefit by hosting an international exchange student?

A: Hosting an exchange student can be a rewarding experience. Families can learn about another culture and language without leaving home.

Families can start a life-long relationship with a new “son” or “daughter,” and when the student returns the family will have a friend in another country. Family will feel closer to each other through sharing daily lives with an exchange student. Children here can gain a broader perspective on the world, learning more about geography, communication and international cultures. The bonds can create positive impressions about America and Americans, breaking stereotypes, and fostering mutual understanding and respect.

Source: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs


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