By Lin Stone
Jan Bedard has been the International Exchange Coordinator for Education First (EF) for 20 years. EF is a high school program where high school students from 25 different countries come and spend one school year with a family in the United States.
Jan and her husband George first hosted an exchange student in August of 1991 and have continued to share their home with many students over the years. Although their own children are grown – in fact, their son Joe and his family are hosting their own first exchange student this year – Jan continues to work enthusiastically with the EF program. “I love meeting the kids from around the world and their families. There is an added bonus too: I have been privileged to get to know many great local families too; our paths might not have otherwise crossed.
“I think what precludes many people from hosting a child is the thought of having a “guest” in your home for 10 months – but you can’t do it like that. The student has to become part of your every day family life, walking the dog, raking the leaves, and making their own way with your care and support.
“I want people to know that they will be well supported throughout the year,” she continued. “I will be there to meet the student at the airport when they arrive and again when they leave. In between, I am always available to discuss concerns from students or families. I host monthly get-togethers at my home. I want my host families to have that ‘amazing and unforgettable life experience’ that the visiting kids hope awaits them in America.”
This year Shelburne’s Deb and John Rooney and their 16-year-old son Jack, a sophomore at CVU, hosted their first exchange student, Miguel Bauer from Berlin. According to Deb, she wanted to host an exchange student because she has always been interested in travel and wanted to expand the family’s awareness of the world. Additionally, because her older two children are grown and no longer at home, she wanted her youngest son Jack to nonetheless have some kind of sibling-like relationship during high school.
Deb said that this student exchange turned out to be a remarkable experience. “First, Jan was so careful with the pre-screening to help us find a student who might be a good fit for our family. Then, her advice was so good. One of her suggestions was ‘to look at the apps and find someone who makes you smile and laugh.’
“We also wanted to find a student with some shared interests. Our son Jack is a graffiti artist, and in Miguel’s application, he said that he likes to draw something every day. It’s uncanny how similar the two boys turned out to be. Miguel easily fit right in. His mom and I corresponded by email [thank you Google translator]. It’s great to see how other people live and to learn from their different perspectives. It broadens all of us. I encourage people to give it a try – this experience benefitted us all, and the positives – by far – outweighed any adjustments or challenges.”
EF’s Bedard stressed that all kinds of families have done this well: single moms, families with only children, and people with a full house. “You don’t have to have a perfect home to be happy doing this,” she concluded, “You just need to be willing to share what you have.”
For more information please contact Jan Bedard 482-3494 firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lin Stone