Families sought for exchange students
Potential exchange student hosts in Glenwood may contact Jackie Skramstad at email@example.com for application information, and families in Carbondale or Basalt can reach out to Robin Tolan at 970-379-1365.
Seventeen-year-old Joey Chiu is getting a lot more fresh air these days.
The Glenwood Springs High School junior and Rotary exchange student from Taiwan has spent the past several months taking honors classes, learning about American culture, honing his English skills and enjoying mountain town life.
“I’m from a big city with lots of buildings, so there is a lot of concrete and not many places with grass,” Chiu said. “So Glenwood Springs is a very comfortable exchange place.”
Since arriving in August 2015, Chiu has steadily immersed himself in not only his studies but in extracurricular pursuits — time for which he did not always have in his home country.
“This year I have had more time to learn, and also to practice English because school gets out much earlier here,” Chiu noted. “I am also in the jazz and concert band, and the wind ensemble. Plus I joined the cross country team and now the swim team — these have been the best experiences for me.”
Chiu’s exchange year — and the invaluable experiences it has provided him — would not have been possible without the Glenwood Springs Rotary Club, which has been sponsoring international students for decades in an effort to encourage cross-cultural understanding.
Area Rotarians are looking now for host families for next school year.
“The Rotary Youth Exchange is a diplomatic program between countries that seeks to foster understanding and cultural awareness,” said Jackie Skramstad, the club’s current youth exchange officer. “Rotary believes — at both the local and international levels — that this is a powerful way to make connections to others who come from different countries and backgrounds.”
Rotary International, the Glenwood Springs club’s parent organization, was founded in 1905 and now comprises more than 34,000 chapters worldwide. A collective of professionals and business leaders, Rotary has a mission that states that it seeks to “provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace.” The organization’s Youth Exchange was begun by several European chapters in the 1920s, and today includes students from around the globe.
LOVE AND CURIOSITY
Glenwood Springs chapter member Patricia Kramer, who joined in the late 1980s and spent 25 years involved with the group’s exchange program, remembers her first hosting experience well. In 1991, her family hosted an Australian student named Christine at the last minute, when Christine’s original host situation was not working out.
“I was asked if, in the next two days, my husband and I would be willing to host a student,” she said. Despite having two young children of their own at home, the Kramers accepted.
“We said sure,” Kramer recalled. “We had a concrete unfinished basement then — but we hit Wal-Mart, hung material for walls, found a box spring and mattress, and Christine moved in that weekend. We still hear from her. She’s a mother of three and nurse midwife in Brisbane.”
The experience was such a positive one that it influenced Kramer to want to become more involved with Rotary’s exchange program, and she has since hosted many other students. She believes passionately in the impact the program has on its participants, especially after observing their bonds as an exchange counselor.
“I watched the host families open their homes and hearts to someone else’s child from the other side of the planet and grow to love them and enjoy them as one of their own,” Kramer said. “Hosting allows you to have sons and daughters all over the world.”
Today, Kramer even receives Mother’s Day cards from her former exchange students. She stressed that the rewards of hosting far outweigh the challenges.
“If I could host with two toddlers and an unfinished basement, working full time, anyone can host,” Kramer said. “All it takes is love and curiosity about the rest of the world. This is a program that builds goodwill and friendship among nations and cultures, one fine, energetic, open young person at a time.”
Members of the community interested in hosting should know that the time commitment is just three months, since the Rotary program is designed to expose an exchange student to multiple families during a school year.
“When students come, they join the host family’s life,” said the Glenwood club’s Skramstad. “We want them to be able to see what life is like for an American family, and since not all families are the same, they move between three different ones throughout their stay.”
The program accepts teens aged 15-19. In the past, the valley’s Rotary clubs have hosted high school students from Russia, Japan, Chile, Argentina, Sweden and many other countries.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, about 20 years,” said Robin Tolan, the Carbondale Rotary Club’s incoming president and outgoing youth exchange officer. “Between the clubs in Glenwood and Carbondale, we’ve probably sponsored more than 50 kids since then.”
For the upcoming 2016-17 school year, the clubs in the lower Roaring Fork Valley plan to host four students from Germany, India, Spain and Brazil, and a total of 12 host families are needed to accommodate them.
“The exchange program changes these students’ and hosts’ lives in a big way,” Tolan said. “Everyone involved will tell you they now have lifelong friends around the world because of it.”