DEERFIELD VALLEY- Living and growing up in the confines of mountains can make life in a rural area feel insular, but the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club has a solution. The local chapter of Rotary International wants to help students see the world and realize that they are not so isolated. Also, the group wants to find families who are willing to show foreign students what life is like in rural America.
“The world is a small place, and it’s just a good idea to help people learn about other countries,” said Marcia Dorey, the Rotary Club’s youth exchange officer. “It’s about learning culture and attitudes, and sometimes we’re too insular. The opportunities are open, but we really don’t take advantage of them.”
The Rotary is looking for families to host students beginning in August 2015. Those interested will be vetted with a background check for all adults over 18 in their household, as well as an in-home interview to make sure a family has the space and finances to host an exchange youth. As Dorey said, the main element is that people need to be prepared to host “out of the goodness of their heart.”
The Rotary has hosted short-term and long-term exchanges over the past three years including sponsoring business professional groups from Germany and Pakistan, and exchanges between local high school students and students from Spain. While there is a lengthy application process, and airfare costs are involved, the Rotary is encouraging youth to step up and volunteer to exchange with a foreign student for a three-to six-week period next summer, or even for a full year.
Exchange students who come to the valley are given a $100 stipend by the Rotary each month, as well as the rules, which Dorey calls the “three Ds:” no drugs, no driving, no dating. The Rotary looks to house foreign students with multiple families over their year long stay, but that has not been easy so far.
Last year’s Rotary-hosted student from France, Tristan Delacour, stayed with Crista and John Gannon, of Wilmington, for the entire year, but the Rotary had planned on having more families involved. “There’s supposed to be three hosts, so as not to overwhelm anyone and so that the exchange student learns that not everyone lives the same way, but we didn’t get that this year,” said Dorey.
For John Gannon, the experience of hosting a student was both positive and educational. “It was great to have Tristan, he’s a great kid and making him part of the family was really easy,” said Gannon. “It was good to share traditions around the holidays including his first Thanksgiving, and we shared American and French Christmas traditions. Yes, it was an extra mouth to feed and that’s part of the cost, but he got to go to Twin Valley High School and he took classes at Marlboro College, and I think it went very smoothly.”
For those local students age 15 to 19 interested in the exchange program, there will be an informational meeting on August 3, from noon to 6 pm, at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Wallingford. The Rotary is looking for students who have demonstrated leadership in their school and community, are flexible and willing to try new things, are open to cultural differences, and can serve as an ambassador for their country.
Those interested can contact John Gannon at John.firstname.lastname@example.org