International Exchange Co-ordinator with the EF Foundation for Foreign Study.
What exactly is the EF Foundation for Foreign Study?
EF Foundation for Foreign Study is a world-wide exchange program that brings young students, aged 14 – 18, from overseas − for stays of 6 or 12 months. The aim of EF Foundation is to encourage cultural awareness through student exchange programs. Since 1979, over 65,000 students and host families have participated in the Foundation’s programs. EF Foundation is part of EF Education – which is an organisation that has offices in over 30 countries.
What is your role with the organisation?
I’m an IEC – or International Exchange Co-ordinator. Because EF Foundation operates all around Australia and our home office is based in Sydney, we need local people who have connections and networks that enable them to find host families for the students. That’s my primary role. I’m also an independent, neutral person who can listen to the families and the students if there are any issues, rather than having to talk to someone in Sydney they may never be able to meet. Although IECs don’t operate in zones as such, I basically place students in the Kempsey, Port Macquarie and Taree areas.
We hear you’re currently looking for host families for some students due to arrive from overseas in January?
Yes. At this time, there are 21 students who are yet to be placed throughout Australia. These students do often tend to end up in the more regional or rural areas of Australia. We have a lot of European students who want to come to Australia: French, Italian; German; students from the Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway; and Asian students, from Japan, China, Korea and Thailand. The students will come to stay for either 6 or 12 months. Some families can also be what’s called an ‘arrival family’, where they’ll keep a student for 8 weeks while another IEC or I find them a permanent position. This is ideal for families who are a little unsure about committing to the full 6 or 12 month program – but they often convert! I’d love to find some host families not just in Port Macquarie, but in the smaller centres like Wauchope, Laurieton and Taree.
In practical terms, what do the host families need to provide/pay for?
The host family is basically providing a home and meals. The students have their own health insurance and pay for all of their own school needs – fees, books, uniforms, excursions etc. They also have their own spending money they can use.
What’s the feedback been like from some of the families you’ve supported in the past?
People wonder why they never did it before! I have one host family at the moment, where the mother herself was an exchange student years ago – she went to America. Her family then hosted a boy from Canada, and they have all remained lifelong friends. That was twenty-three years ago – and the Canadian family has just recently been over to visit the Australian family again. Another family I help no longer have children at home. Rather than just host one student, because they thought it might be a bit dull for the student, they hosted two – one from Austria and one from Denmark. They have all loved doing things together as a family. The program helps to develop long lasting friendships, as well as providing an amazing cultural experience.
You position as an IEC must be particularly rewarding?
It’s fantastic. I’m also an English as a Foreign Language teacher, and I’ve taught ESL − English for migrants, who need to have functional English to perform day to day tasks like shopping etc. This program is hugely rewarding for me. I stay in touch with the host parents regularly by calling them or texting them. I’m available for the families and students to contact me if they need to.
Why would you encourage families to become hosts for these international students?
If you want a different experience, you have a little bit of room in your home – maybe you’ve had children who’ve left home, or you have an only child at home, and you love kids … this is for you. These students become a part of your family. You give them rules, regulations and chores just the same as you would your own children. I see this program as an opportunity to travel – but the travel comes to you! It’s also a great way to share Australian culture and our beautiful region with others – and to change their lives. Students have told us how meaningful this experience is to them. The students will be arriving in January, so if you’re interested in being a host family – please don’t think about it for too long! These students are almost all packed and ready to go. You’ll make somebody’s year and have an enormous positive impact on their lives by offering them a place to stay.
What’s the process for families who are interested in becoming hosts?
People can go to the website: www.effoundation.org or they can contact me by email:firstname.lastname@example.org to organise an interview. There will be an onsite inspection arranged to ensure the home offered is suitable. Students don’t actually have to have their own room; but if they are required to share a room, it must be with another person of the same gender (but not a child under the age of 12) and of course, they must have their own bed.
Interview by Jo Atkins.