Host families sought for international students

A handful of international high school students are looking for homes in Southern Oregon for the upcoming school year, and they're struggling to find them.

Placement coordinators with Ayusa, one of several organizations that matches high school exchange students with households each year, said that a weak economy has caused many prospective families to lose interest in hosting students.

"There are some expenses, and people don't want that extra cost," said Peter Wood, a regional coordinator for Ayusa who places students in Southern Oregon.

Wood said that although students come with their own spending money and pay their own way to get to the United States, host families typically treat the students to small vacations and sightseeing trips.

Despite the associated costs, Wood said the experience can be rewarding for the student and the host family.

"It's a lot of learning for both sides," said Wood. "It's a good program."

Host families typically have children of their own, Wood said, although anyone is eligible to apply if they live within a school district and have an interest in hosting a student.

"It's not a small thing to be a surrogate mom or dad, but we're certainly looking forward to it," said Ronald Decker, who is hosting a student with his wife, Jackie, for the first time this year.

Decker said that Ayusa sought out the Deckers because they own a horse ranch, and one of the prospective students had requested to live in a rural setting with access to horses.

"We're just delighted," said Decker, who owns White's City's Mystic Ranch.

Decker said his brother-in-law had hosted high school exchange students in California for the past four years, and he had been able to meet the students on trips to visit family.

"Young people have a tendency to raise the energy level of whoever they are with," he said. "We're pretty jazzed up."

Decker said he and his wife, who have three grown children, are excited to host a female from Germany. They have exchanged several emails and had a long Skype conversation with the newest member of their family.

"We think we could offer something to a younger person," said Decker, who hopes to exchange food and customs with the German student and help her build language skills.

Decker said the student arrives a few weeks into August and will attend the Renaissance Academy at Crater High School for the year.

Ayusa, a nationwide nonprofit, relies primarily on word of mouth to attract new host families, and it's still looking for six or seven more families in the region to open their homes to international students.

"There's always a lot of maybes," said Wood, who works out of Roseburg to place students with families.

If students don't have placements before school begins next month, they are often put with a welcoming family to get them settled, according to Tami Storment, Medford's Ayusa community representative.

Storment, who has hosted three students over the past two years, said the experience has been positive.

"It's a big commitment, but I think it's a rewarding commitment," said Storment, who hosted students from Czech Republic, Brazil and Germany.

"You get a new appreciation for our country by seeing it through someone else's eyes," said Storment, who thinks hosting students has been educational for her 6-year-old son.

"He tries to learn their language, and he learns a lot about culture," said Storment.

Storment said she hasn't signed up to host another student this year, but said if the incoming students can't find host families by the time school starts, she may end up welcoming one or two into her home temporarily.

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