Exchange program: Host families are hard to find


By Marion Rhodes

It’s the ultimate disappointment. Imagine you paid $6,000 to go to a foreign country as an exchange student for one year.

You’ve been waiting for that magic departure day for several months. You are prepared.

You’ve told your friends, your relatives and your school that you are leaving. Then you receive a phone call: Sorry, you can’t go.

For about 80 high school students from Germany and many more from other countries all over the world, that scenario became reality this year.

They were told that they could not go because there simply were not enough host families to take in all the applicants.

Suspicion toward foreign students, economic problems and stricter enforcement of visa requirements were obstacles the exchange organization Youth for Understanding had to face this year before placing all their enrollees.

Jane Lacy-Johansen, host mother of a UNO freshman from Germany and local area representative for YFU, said it has always been hard to find host families in the United States, but since Sept. 11, the search has gotten even harder.

“The internalization of patriotism has stopped people from looking outside,” she said.

She said many Americans have become suspicious when it comes to foreign exchange students, including Germans — a feeling that is enforced by the fact that three of the terrorists who were involved in the attacks last year were from Hamburg, Germany.

The poor economic conditions in the U.S. right now also make families reluctant to the idea of taking in an additional family member for a year, Lacy-Johansen said.

“Exchange students, to a lot of people, are luxury,” she said. “People now worry about themselves.”

The conditions were everything but good for the recruitment of host families.

For the first time, YFU had to cancel the planned exchange experience for several of their enrollees.

With stricter enforcement of Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations, it was harder for student visitors to receive visas this year.

Since 1996, student visa applicants must have proof of “binding ties to a residence in a foreign country” before they are issued a visa, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Web site.

In previous years, students for which the organization had not been able to find a host family yet would receive their visas in advance, but this year, the INS made no exceptions.

Students the organization couldn’t place with a host family several weeks before their anticipated departure to the U.S. had to be dropped from the program.

However, YFU kept searching for host families, so that eventually all students were able to leave for their exchange years, even though many of them had to stay in their home country up to a month longer than originally planned.

“You can’t imagine how relieved I was after we were finally able to place the last ones of our students,” said Rachel Zahner from YFU Germany. “I hope we will never have to run into such difficulties again

If you, your family or someone you know would like to open up your home to an international student for anywhere between a few weeks to one year, please contact Lacy-Johansen at 561-0550, or e-mail her at .

YFU always needs host families for students who may have to change families throughout the year as well as for upcoming years.

Eligible families need to provide the exchange students with two meals a day, a quiet place to study and, preferably, a separate bedroom


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