Have you ever thought about hosting a foreign exchange student? If so, you may want to know that there is a community representative in South Utah County who can assist you with the process.
Jennifer Ruff of Spanish Fork is a community representative for Auysa International, which is a nonprofit high school exchange organization connecting international students to host families. Like many in the organization, Ruff got her start hosting students of her own.
“My youngest two children are twin girls and they thought it would be a fun idea to have an exchange student because one of my brothers-in-law had one,” Ruff said. “They asked if we could apply to have one, and I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’
“My girls were ambitious and they went on the computer and started researching exchange students. They filled out the application, and I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. The next day I got a phone call from a lady who does what I do now, and the process was really smooth. We ended up hosting a girl from Germany.”
Ruff said that while the process to host an exchange student is really easy, that there is also a vetting process that families and students must go through.
“The program screens the kids to make sure that it’s something they really want to do and to see if they are mature enough to leave home for several months and come across seas and live with a new family,” Ruff explained. “Families also go through a screening process, and once they are matched with a student, there are some orientations to prepare the families and students for their experience.”
Ruff also explained that the organization works hard to match students with families so that the experience is successful for all.
“We have a website, and families can choose a student that has the same or similar interest that their family has, and they can choose which country they come from, or if they want a boy or a girl,” Ruff said.
Ruff said that hosting a student lasts the whole school year with students arriving in August and leaving a couple of weeks after school gets out. She said that not only is having foreign exchange students a wonderful experience for the families and students, but also for the community at large.
“It’s a really great experience and it’s great for the community,” she said. “It’s great for schools because it introduces new and different cultures. We don’t have a lot of diversity here in Utah, so it’s a really great thing. It helps break down the misunderstandings that we have with other countries, and just builds connections with other countries. It’s a really positive experience.”
Ruff said that since hosting her first student, her family has hosted several others from Japan and the Netherlands. She said that even as the years have passed, she still views them as part of her family.
“They truly do become part of your family,” she said. “The relationships go beyond their school year. We’ve gone to Germany and the Netherlands to visit them, and we’ve stayed with their families. It’s such a rewarding experience to be able to visit them in their home countries. They come from amazing families, and it’s also a great way to be able to travel to different countries because you have a place to stay.”
Ruff said that she hopes to bring awareness to those who have considered having a foreign exchange student.
“There are a lot of people who just don’t know about it, or that this kind of thing even exists,” she said. “Maybe you knew a foreign exchange student in high school and thought it was really cool, but now that you are older, don’t know how to get involved. I want people to know that I am here to help them and let them know that it really is an amazing experience.”
For more information, go to ayusa.org.