Host families for foreign exchange students needed
By Megan Kelley
ORION TWP. — The Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education received a presentation on the high school’s SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) during its meeting on April 26.
“A couple years ago, Lake Orion Community Schools started their student exchange visitor program certification and in January we became certified,” said Michelle Novak, Lake Orion High School guidance counselor and SEVP coordinator. “What that means is that we are allowed to issue our I-20s through the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), which is all regulated through the Department of Homeland Security. So, when we issue an I-20 to an international student they can go and apply for an F1 visa through their country then they can arrive in the United States to study.”
F1 students must be in grades 9-12, can only attend a public high school for one year, can arrive 30 days before school starts and exit the U.S. within 60 days once school ends. F1 visas are good for five years so students can attend college, university, one year of public high school or private school, Novak said.
The school does all of this through the international student company Student Management Group, which does the screening for host families and provides the students to LOHS.
This year, LOHS has 31 international students from nine different countries: Brazil, Chile, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Vietnam. Of these students, 14 were seniors who are earning their high school diploma and three are planning to attend college in the U.S.
Next year, eight of the students plan to return to the U.S. and attend a private high school, Novak said.
Lake Orion has a number of host families including George and Dimitra Theodorou, who host exchange students almost every year. The Theodorou’s have lived in Lake Orion for about nine years and have a daughter who graduated from LOHS.
“We really enjoy the experience. We like to have more kids in the house than we normally have. We only had one daughter and we feel like the house has a better environment, much happier situation, when there are more kids, more people, in the house,” George said. “The benefits; it’s not just that we’re happy with a big family, we also make a lot of friends around the world.”
The program also provides a rich new experience for the exchange students.
“I came here mostly to improve my English, to challenge myself and to have a unique experience,” said Fiona, a senior at LOHS and an exchange student from Italy. “I really like going to Lake Orion. I think it’s a beautiful community. They try to include everyone and they care a lot about their students. We talk a lot about mental health every day and I really appreciate that because my school in Italy doesn’t do that and I think it’s really important.”
Fiona emphasized the number of activities that are available at Lake Orion, sharing that she is currently on the tennis team and attends sporting events regularly. She is expected to graduate from LOHS this spring and will head back to Italy to finish her schooling there.
LOHS is currently looking for host families for the 2023-24 school year.
Host families receive a $400 monthly stipend to offset the cost of hosting students, and exchange students have their own health insurance, cell phone and are responsible for their own expenses. This is a full school year commitment with students expected to arrive one to two weeks before the start of the school year and will depart one to two weeks after the school year ends, Novak said.
Anyone who is interested in hosting a student, or has additional questions about the program, contact Novak at 248-431-3098 or 249-693-5640 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.