Have you ever thought about exploring the world and learning about other cultures but time, finances or vacation did not allow. You can bring the world and cultural experiences to you by hosting a foreign exchange student.

Uniontown resident Jeff Goodenow, who as a young adult watched his parents welcome multiple exchange students, decided this was the right time for him and his family to host an exchange student.

The Goodenow family is hosting Sara Calleson this year. Calleson is from Denmark.

"This is a gap year for Sara," said Goodenow. "This does not count as a year of school. The gap year appears between middle school and high school. Students can choose to work, go away to school or do nothing.

"When I was a teenager, my parents hosted an exchange student from Germany when I was a junior in high school. They had seven more exchange students all through my college years. Instead of reading about life in these countries, you can experience the culture."

Goodenow explained the history of how exchange students started. Most families who want to host a foreign exchange student go though American Swedish Student Exchange (ASSE).

"This program initially started for just Sweden students to come to the United States," said Goodenow, who is married to his wife, Joy. "The program has since expanded world-wide. The web site is www.asse.com. For kids to be chosen to come to the United States, there is a screening process. They pick kids who are well mannered, get good grades, pass multiple interviews, write essay questions and their teachers are interviewed. They also have to be mature enough to be able to be away for a year."

Goodenow, who said he wanted to do this, also wanted to wait until his own daughters – Amanda and Alyssa – were older. Goodenow said Amanda, who is a junior at Kent State, was not ready to have an exchange student while she lived at home. But Alyssa, a freshman at Lake, was ok.

The host family is also screened.

"A host family has to fill out a questioner, have positive references and their home high school has to approve," said Goodenow. "There is a home visit as well. They make sure the exchange student has a bedroom, a place to study. This is also regulated by the United States State Department."

Goodenow said once the exchange student is in the United States, they cannot go home unless there are extreme circumstances.

"Their parents cannot come over for a visit at Christmas or Easter," he said.

Goodenow said Calles has adapted well to her host family.

"Sara came her two weeks before school started," said Goodenow. "She played tennis for Lake and is on the swim team. She has made friends with other foreign exchange students.

"The key to success is getting the student assimilated into the family as quickly as possible. That helps with the transition. Assign chores. The challenge is to welcome the student into the house but also maintaining the family routine. If you eat dinner at 5 p.m., you need to stay on that schedule. There is an adjustment for everyone. You also have to balance the attention you are giving your own children. It is a delicate balance."

Goodenow said Alyssa has a lot of friends, but also enjoys her quiet time. He said Sara and Alyssa have some mutual friends and get along. They are not best friends, but they interact well, he said.

To help the process, Goodenow said it is helpful if the whole family is involved in the process. Goodenow said they looked at pictures and profiles. Once they selected Sara, he said they communicated through Facebook and talked before she came over.

"The positives of the program are you get show a student from another country what the real U.S. is like," said Goodenow. "The Midwest is more normal, friendlier and laid back. You get to teach a student and also see it through different eyes. You get to make a life-long friend."

Goodenow said typically a foreign exchange student will bring gifts from their country to share with the host family. Typically, two or three years later after the visit, the host family goes and visits the student.

Calleson, who was born in California, went to Denmark when she was two. She does speak English. Goodenow said Calleson said Halloween is celebrated a little differently in Denmark; there is no Thanksgiving. He said Calleson said for Christmas they do everything on Christmas Eve, so that will be different.

When hosting an exchange student, each high school in the area only accepts a certain number of foreign exchange students. Lake accepts four per year.

How to host

There are many different organizations that match foreign exchange students with host families. While Goodenow went through the American Swedish Student Exchange, the Rotary Club is another organization that matches host families with students.

Plain Local Schools Superintendent Brent May and his family hosted a student through Rotary Club during the 2015-16 school year. May is a member of the Plain Township Rotary Club.

"We did our student through Rotary Club," said May.  "We hosted Fabian Caul, who was from Chile. It was a great experience.

"It is amazing what you learn when you have an exchange students. Your family learns their culture, the food and communicating with the student. Fabian spoke broken English. He primarily spoke Spanish. It took us about two months to communicate well."

May said at the time Caul came to live with the family, a major earthquake hit Chile. He said Caul was literally speaking with his family as they were running to the hills for safety.

At the end of year, May said it was tough to let him go. The family still keeps in contact with Caul through Facetime.

Similar to Goodenow’s story, May said they would host a student again, adding they would like to go visit Caul and his family. May said Caul came to the United States with just a big book bag, but went home with a lot more.

Foreign exchange students through Rotary Club have monthly meetings so the host families also meet many other students and host families.

May said his older kids – Logan and Emily – may be considering studying a year abroad.

Goodenow and May both said that foreign exchange students are matched with classes they are interested in studying; they walk through commencement exercises; each school district allows three to four students a year; and when families know they are hosting an exchange student they should contact the high school principal.