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Exchange program connects cultures

Editor’s note: This is the final article in this series. Stay tuned for more education-based articles starting in September.For 30 years, the nonprofit student exchange program, Aspect Foundation, has connected students from almost 30 different countries with host families in the United States and abroad. Liz Jense, Falcon resident and Aspectís international coordinator, said a Japanese student with Aspect is currently staying with a host family in Falcon School District 49. Two more students are slated to arrive in August for the 2015-2016 school year.Aspect is headquartered in San Francisco and governed by the United States Department of State as an official exchange visitor program, Jense said. ìAspectís mission is to facilitate cultural exchange and awareness at the family level,î she said. ìEach host family automatically becomes an enthusiastic ambassador for the American family by sharing its traditions and celebrations and ordinary day-to-day life.îStudents eligible for the exchange program must meet specific criteria: They must be 15 to 18 years old and screened for maturity level and academic potential, Jense said. While in the U.S., students must enroll in a full course of study, attend classes regularly and maintain a C average. Exchange students are not permitted to drive and must follow personal safety guidelines and rules set forth by Aspect.Similarly, host families ó all of them are volunteers ó must pass a background check and be able to provide a bedroom and a quiet place for the student to study, Jense said. Students can share a bedroom with a same-gender child who is within five years of their own age, she said. ìAt the most basic level, the host family provides a welcome and loving home and three meals a day, either provided or made available,î Jense said.Shantell Carroll, a D 49 parent who hosts Minori Yamashita, an exchange student, said having two students of her own at Falcon High School heavily factored in to the decision to become a host family. ìI used to work at Falcon High, and I was always really impressed with the exchange students,î she said. ìI have an 18 and 17-year-old of my own, and our exchange student is 16. Theyíre all good friends, and they include each other.îInclusion in normal everyday activities is an important part of the Aspect program, Jense said. Each student needs to feel like a member of the family, so he or she can experience an authentic American household. ìItís one thing to be in a classroom or to have a teacher from abroad, but itís different to have a student come be a part of a family and see how Americans work and live and play,î she said.Carroll said initially it was difficult not to treat Yamashita as a visitor. ìI kind of felt like she was company, and I wanted to show her everything and do everything,î she said. ìI didnít want her to miss out on things.î Because Yamashitaís stay is the standard 10-month term, Carroll said she was able to slow the pace and show Yamashita the lifestyle of the Carroll family, while encouraging her to build her own relationships.Regardless of where a student is academically in their country, they are considered a junior in America so they have access to all the activities high school has to offer, Jense said. ìA lot of them have very academic lives at home,î she said. ìThey want to experience the camaraderie of a football game and cheering for the team.îSignificant to the program is the exchange of ideas, Jense said. Exchange students want to show off their own personal country and bring some of their culture to their host families, she said.ìThereís such turmoil going on in the world today, and a lot of us look to the federal government to fix it,î Jense said. ìBut here at home in our families and communities, this is one of the best ways that we can Ö open up our culture to other people and not be ashamed of our lives. Then, these kids go home and talk about it with their families. They often become lifetime members of their host families. Itís heartwarming.îCarroll said her family has enjoyed the time theyíve spent with Yamashita. ìI could not have asked for a better experience,î she said. ìI know itís not always that way and that the student will be switched to a new family, if it isnít a good fit. You want it to be good for everyone, and Iím really grateful that ours worked out.îBecause they also have younger children who will eventually attend high school, Carroll said they will likely host students in the future.Jense said Aspect is always looking for host families willing to share their homes with exchange students. More information can be found at

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