Anouk is from Switzerland. She’s 17 and loves baking, the beach, comedy and cooking. Konrad, of Germany is interested in boating, the beach, dining out and typical for a 16-year-old boy — cars.
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Anouk is from Switzerland. She’s 17 and loves baking, the beach, comedy and cooking. Konrad, of Germany is interested in boating, the beach, dining out and typical for a 16-year-old boy — cars. Who are they? They’re just two of thousands of foreign students who’d like to spend a year as exchange students in the U.S.
Kacey Narracci often helps teens like Anouk and Konrad live the dream. As a regional coordinator for a nonprofit called EF Exchange Year, her job is to match students with host families right here in Jeffco. The program has been around for more than 40 years and Narracci said they’re currently working with students from 13 countries in Europe and Asia.
“We have 24 students in Jeffco right now,” she said. “The idea is to promote cultural exchange.”
She said studies show that if someone from another country spends time in an exchange program, they leave with a more favorable opinion of the U.S., which reverberates in their home country. That being the case, she said the program is supported by entities like the U.S. State Department.
“There’s lots of State Department guidelines. Everyone is vetted. We don’t take all of the students who apply — just the number we think we can place that will be successful,” she said. “They come and they live with an American host family which come in all shapes and sizes — LGBTQ host families, single people, families with small children, families with high school-aged children, empty nesters — it runs the gamut.”
Narracci joked that the foreign students often think American schools will be like the Disney movie "High School Musical." She said in most of Europe and Asia, high school is just about academics, so exchange students love to take part in extracurricular activities offered in the U.S.
“They all want to come to a school with school spirit. Lots of them want to cheer,” she said. “We encourage them all to get involved in school activities, be it a club or a sport.”
She also takes time to look at the students’ interests to make sure they’ll be compatible with the family they’re placed with. Narracci said the exchange is not just a one-way street, because the host families also gain so much from the program. She looks at the interests, hobbies, lifestyle and habits of potential host families and finds commonalities that should help make the relationship between exchange student and host, flourish.
“It’s fun for families that just have one kid, to see what it’s like to have more, or their child to see what it’s like to have a sibling,” she said. “And it also give folks a chance to share parts of their lives — introduce and be introduced to cultural differences that exist between countries. I feel like it makes the world seem smaller.”
The pandemic, Narracci said, was difficult. Students were sent back to their home countries in the spring of 2020, to avoid them being unable to travel as more restrictions kicked in around the world. But last year, providing students were vaccinated and willing to take part in local regulations, the program got back to quasi-normal. Narracci said the 2022-23 school year should be even better.
To learn more about EF Exchange Year, or if you’d like to be a host family, visit efexchangeyear.org.
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