Changing lives through student exchange

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Earlier this month, Dale Ann Nicholson called her son to tell him that he was going to be an uncle. Nicholson let him guess which family members before she revealed the parent-to-be: Jeppe, a foreign exchange student from Denmark that had been hosted by the Nicholson’s 25 years ago. Jeppe was their first exchange student, but by the end of his time with them, he had become a part of the family. They have maintained their relationship even to today, and they could not be happier for the new addition. 

Since she started hosting, Nicholson has switched hats to include acting as a coordinator for the placement of the students. Lea, a girl from Germany, was one of the girls that she had placed. Lea loved America so much that she decided to stay the full school year rather than the usual one semester.

“This decision was the best one I have ever made in my life,” Lea wrote in a letter to Nicholson after her return to Germany. “Now I have this dream to go to college in the U.S. and then live there when I am older and done with school.”

Nicholson returned to Rhode Island in 1998, and continued to be involved in various exchange student placement agencies.  She explains that the attitude of host families has shifted throughout the years.

“It used to be that I’d have families jumping at the chance to host different children. Now, I have trouble finding even one placement in Rhode Island.”

In 2006, she started with the Northwest Student Exchange as their first Regional Manager. Though she has not been able to host, Nicholson has dedicated her time into placing children with the best possible host family.

To be a host family, there is a vetting process to ensure the exchange student will be placed with a family that will treat them like their own child. This process includes background checks and home visits. Hosting is completely voluntary, so there is an option to deduct $50 per month of the exchange from their tax return.

To attend public schools in America, students pay a NWSE program fee between $4,000 to $8,000 depending on the type of program. If the students wish to attend private school, they pay the program fee as well as school tuition.

Exchange students are required to bring their own spending money, and have complete health and accident insurance. Host families would enroll and fill out paperwork for the school, but the school has to accept them first. Students attending the fall semester will arrive in August, and January for the spring. All students must be between 15 and 18½ years old on the first day of school.

When Nicholson started her new position at NWSE, she recommended Robert Monahan host an exchange student. Though he had never hosted before, Monahan agreed. In total, he has hosted seven exchange students since 2006. Four of the students were from Germany, while the rest were from Italy, Mexico, and Kazakhstan.

Making sure that the students felt comfortable in a new country was Monahan’s priority, and would often take them out on extra trips. Though he is unable to host currently due to travel for work, Monahan still plays an active role in the student’s lives. 

“Hosting the exchange students is so rewarding and it let’s you learn about other cultures,” says Monahan. 

David Andres, an exchange student from Germany, came to stay with Monahan in 2009.

 “It was crazy, I only knew Robert through email so when I got off the plane, I couldn’t tell who he was,” Andres recalls. “The first two weeks were tough, but he helped me through a lot of stuff and took me out to see different things.”

Andres is currently visiting with Monahan before they drive up to Wisconsin where he will be studying mechanical engineering.

Monahan turned 50 last March, and his students had a special surprise for him.  The students from Germany and Italy got together with their families and rented out a chalet in the Black Forest region near Freiburg, Germany. Monahan was able to make the trip and celebrate his 50th with the students and their families. 

Northwest Student Exchange is a Seattle-based non-profit that places 325 students each year. By keeping that number low, it ensures that students remain a "name, rather than a number."  NWSE places students nationwide and have different options on the length of the host.  If you know someone that would be a good host family, NWSE gives $175 for referrals. For referrals or families interested in hosting, contact Dale Ann Nicholson at 401-391-7766.

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