Niwot Rotary seeks host families for incoming exchange student
July 30, 2016
Rotary International has been hosting students from abroad and sending students abroad for decades, and the Rotary Club of Niwot jumped on the exchange program train over five years ago.
“We take a student each year and they stay here in the states for a full year,” Margaret Hix, youth exchange officer for the Niwot Rotary Club, said of how the program works. “They go to school [here] just like they would [back home]. They have the same requirements as any student here.”
The club is currently searching for two other families to host its seventh exchange student from Slovakia, who will be arriving in Niwot next month. The student will stay with three different host families throughout the student’s year-long stay.
“We try to have three host families so it’s not a burden to have a kid for an entire year,” Scott Stockert, who’s on the club’s youth exchange committee, explained. “[That way] the kids get a little bit different of an experience with each host family.”
The student stays with each family for about three months. The first three months, from August to November, is already covered by one host family. But the second part, from December to March, and third part, from March to June, still need to be filled.
Hix said the host families are responsible for taking care of the student, just like they would their own child. They need to provide them with housing, a place to study and make them part of their home.
“We do just want them to include them in their family activities,” Hix stated.
Hix is looking forward to the incoming student from Slovakia, who is around 16-years-old and from a ski town. According to Hix, she will fit right into Niwot and embrace the experience.
“She’s very outgoing,” Hix said of the new exchange student. “She says she’s shy, but I don’t think she’s shy. She’s into track and she’s into music”
Not only do the exchange students get to experience life in Colorado, but they also have the opportunity to take a trip around the Western United States with other Rotary exchange students.
“In the summer, the Rotary hosts a Western trip,” Stockert explained. “Our district, the Denver area, and the district from Wyoming take a bus trip and go down to Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Then they drive up to San Francisco and Yosemite, then they fly back from there. It’s a two-week trip and they all just rave about it.”
About 40 students went on the trip last year, which gives them an opportunity to make more connections and bond with each other. Hix, who has hosted exchange students in the past, said the experience of hosting is wonderful.
“These kids are phenomenal,” Hix said. “I’ve hosted four exchange students, from Japan, Finland, Brazil and Hungary, through my husband’s rotary club… I can’t express the fulfillment and joy enough. I get more out of it than I think the kids get out of it.”
Host families don’t have to be part of the Niwot Rotary Club, but just have to be willing and open to taking care of an exchange student.
“We look for people who want to do it,” Stockert said. “They don’t have to be a Rotarian. We want them to live in the [Niwot] school transportation area, where [students] can either walk or take the bus. Exchange students are not allowed to drive, even if they’re old enough.”
If families are hesitant about hosting a student, both Hix and Stockert said the Rotary gives the host families a lot of support throughout the process, and provides the student with a stipend of $100 each month.
Stockert said, “We have a counselor, someone who’s the same sex as the student, who meets with them once a month to make sure everything is going alright and they’re not getting too homesick. We have a whole district who helps us.”
“We’re right there with the families if they need us,” Hix added.
The Rotary Club of Niwot also sends students from NHS abroad as part of the program. At the club’s district level, for every exchange student who comes to the Denver area district, the district clubs will send a student to each country in return.
Niwot’s Rotary Club hasn’t sent a student abroad in several years though, and they’re hoping they can get a student to go next year. “We would love to have an outbound student go somewhere,” Stockert said. “We think it’s such a great experience.”
Interested students need to apply at the start of the school year, and the student and their destination will be chosen in December. Students must be at least 16 years-old and cannot have graduated before they leave. They’re also not required to know the language of the country they’re placed in. Hix said. “It’s helping our youth have a better understanding of other countries.”
Although it’s up to the students coming from abroad to make the experience how they want it, Hix said Niwot has welcomed all their exchange students with open arms and made them feel like part of the town.
“Niwot really is great at embracing these kids, which is really nice,” Hix said. “They really embrace them and bring them in and make them part of the community.”
For people interested in hosting an exchange student or for students interested in going abroad, contact Margaret Hix at [email protected]