Host families needed for exchange students


Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ayusa, a nonprofit group promoting global learning and leadership through cultural exchange and leadership programs for high school students, will soon be welcoming its first foreign exchange student to the Rocky Mount area in August when a resident of Holland comes to attend high school in Nash County in the coming academic year.

Laura Schrama, a high school student from Den Haag, a town near Amsterdam, will be attending Nash Central High School as a junior.

“We are all so excited to welcome Laura to Nash County and give her a taste of American life. We just started working with families in Nash County, so this is an exciting opportunity,” said Ayusa Community Representative Connie Lawrence. “Ayusa is committed to building bridges of understanding between cultures, and we can’t wait for Laura to experience all the wonderful things that this area has to offer.”

Todd and Noel Long will be serving as the host family for Schrama during the coming academic year. They are looking forward to meeting Schrama, whom Lawrence describes as an avid swimmer.

Todd Long said he and his wife became interested in hosting a foreign exchange student through meeting some of the international students at N.C. Wesleyan College.

“We and some of the other members of Redeemer Church have worked with hosting some of the international students at Wesleyan,” Long said. “We have enjoyed meeting them, having the opportunity to welcome them to the USA and to expose them to Christianity. We decided we wanted to explore hosting a foreign exchange student. We heard about Ayusa and looked into the process.”

Long said the process has been fairly smooth so far. 

“It did take awhile for the school system to approve the process since this has not been done before, at least recently,” Long said. “But it worked and we are looking forward to the experience and to bringing Laura into the family.”

James “Rip” Gatling and his wife Ginger, who live in Smithfield, have hosted five students with Ayusa over the past few years. He said that each time has been a positive experience.

“Most people don’t want to open their doors to a stranger. But this program allows you to communicate with the student before they come. When we meet these students, it is not like meeting a stranger — it is like bringing a family member home,” Gatling told the Telegram.

Gatling and his wife are retired educators who reared their own family and were faced with an empty nest.

“We still felt like we had a lot of dad and mom left in us and wanted to continue to work with young people,” Gatling said. “The students we have had have all been polite and most were over-achievers. We grew so close to them that we still stay in touch with them almost every week. Some of them have returned to the United States for college and we see them then. Every Christmas, my house is full.”

Ayusa foreign exchange students are between the ages of 16 and 18 years old, come from more than 60 countries around the world and are matched with local host families all across the U.S. Though the host families don’t receive compensation for allowing students to stay with them, the students do have spending money to provide for their personal needs and host families may be eligible for a tax credit.

The main benefit is the experience the family gains from sharing their culture with a young person from another country and learning about their culture in return.

Lawrence said the main responsibilities of host families are to keep them safe, provide them with room and board and monitor their academic progress, since their main motivation in coming is to learn.

“Both students and host families are carefully screened as part of the process. Most of these students are mature and able to maintain good grades on their own. They also have to speak English well to qualify for entrance into the schools, so communication is not usually a problem,” Lawrence said.

Ayusa is still seeking host families for international high school students in Nash County for the 2019-20 school year. Interested individuals should contact Lawrence by July 1 at 919-552-3657 or at clawrence@ayusa.org. For more information about hosting a student through Ayusa, go to www.ayusa.org.