There’s still time to become a host family:
To become a host family for an international student or for more information:
Contact Lake Orion High School Counselor Michele Novak at 248-693-5420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information: educatius.org.
By Jim Newell
The world has become a global society, more so in the 21st Century than any time in history, and Lake Orion has become a destination for international exchange students to study and learn more about American culture.
Lake Orion High School currently has 31 foreign exchange students and the district needs more families who want to host an international student, said Michele Novak, a guidance counselor at the high school and international student program coordinator.
The program at the high school started about seven years ago with only a handful of exchange students, Novak said.
“Our international kids are amazing. They are really good kids,” she said. “If you ask kids why they do it, they just want to experience the American Dream, even if it’s for one year.”
Four years ago, the Educatius Group, an F-1 exchange student company that places international students with host families in partner school districts, brought the program to Oakland County schools. An F-1 visa means the students are in the U.S. for educational purposes, with strict guidelines for school attendance and grades.
“Every year our program has increased. This year we have 31 kids. And every year we seem to get more kids,” Novak said. “The kids that we get are amazing. Their English is really good and they’re here only for education. They can’t work, they can’t obtain a driver’s license. They can play sports, they can be involved (in school activities) and all of them do get involved.”
Educationally, Novak said the international students “are way above and beyond.” Students can transfer their credits from their home country and senior exchange students take the senior requirements and can earn a diploma from Lake Orion.
Twelve international students will graduate from Lake Orion this year.
Students apply for visas to study abroad through their home country and a study abroad agency then contacts Educatius to place the students throughout the United States.
Lake Orion students always welcome the international students, and the international students like to get involved in high school activities, Novak said.
“Our kids are excited to meet them. And all of them get involved in sports, National Honor Society, Key Club. They get involved in Cultural Outreach,” she said. “They love to play American football. The majority of them have never played before, but they still love it. And our coaches are amazing. They love to get them integrated into sports.”
Right now, Lake Orion is pushing for more host families.
“This is where we can’t do it alone. As a school we do our job, the ISD does their job, the agency does their job. It all does come together. But right now, we have kids waiting because they can’t receive their visa unless they get approval here. So, they’re waiting to see if someone will pick them up (and be a host family).”
Novak said she understands that at first some people might be a little skeptical about inviting someone they’ve never met into their home.
“I’m hosting this year. I’m hosting a boy from France. It is pretty fun. It’s a great experience for our family,” Novak said. “It’s kind of like we adopted him. He’s met my extended family, he’s gone on vacation with us. I know if my kids wanted to study abroad I would want a family to host them.”
The international students stay for the school year, arriving about a week before school begins and leave within a week after school ends, Novak said.
Families who want to host an international student must fill out an application and undergo a criminal background check.
“Students aren’t assigned. Host families can actually look at profiles and choose students,” Novak said, adding host families receive a $300 monthly stipend to help with a student’s living expenses. “Obviously it’s not a lot of money, but it’s to help offset costs.”
The international students come with their own spending money, cell phones, health insurance – “The only thing they’re really looking for is a home and a host family. Not just a home, but a family.”
“We get kids that were part of this program 3-4-5 years ago and they still come back to America. They still come back to Lake Orion and say hi to everybody,” Novak said. “They become a Dragon. They really do, and it’s so fun to see.”
Daniela Abril Rodriguez, a sophomore from Spain, said she wants to go to college and have a career.
“I would like to come to the U.S. to live. I love it. I think it’s an amazing experience. I don’t want to leave. Everything is so different, but cool,” she said.
Daniela is a midfielder on the girls’ soccer team
“There’s lots of different subjects and options you can choose. So, I feel like here I am doing things that I like because in Spain all the subjects are mandatory, you cannot choose. For example, I did art classes and I really enjoyed it because it’s what I like to do,” she said.
Daniela has become close with her host family and would recommend it as a learning experience for both the student and the host family.
“I think they treat you like you were their daughter, you know, like you were part of the family. It’s really cool because they bring me to a lot of places,” Daniela said. “I think that if you are a host family you can learn a lot about other cultures. And if you’re an exchange student you want to do a lot of things, so you kind of involve the family to do stuff, too, like go to the games or participate in activities in school.
“When I go back to Spain I know that I’ll still have family here, and friends so I would like to come back and visit them,” Daniela said.
Herman Berntsen, a junior from Norway, heard about the great time his brother’s friends had studying in Boston, so he decided to take the opportunity to become an international student.
“I was excited to do it as well. I think it’s great here. I’ve been to the U.S. a couple of times before, down south, so it’s completely different than here,” he said. “It was on vacation, so I didn’t have the chance to interact with people my age.”
Herman lives with his host parents, a retired couple with grown children. “I met all of them and they’re really nice. My host parents help me out with school. I’m having a great time with them.”
Herman wants to keep in touch with the people he’s met in Lake Orion and says it’s important for people to host students. “I think just like sharing experiences and cultural differences. Just getting to know other peoples’ culture and how to react to different stuff (is rewarding),” he said.
“I like the people in Lake Orion. I feel like it’s easy to make friends here because everyone’s so outgoing,” Herman said, adding he joined the soccer team and began making friends before school started last fall. “That made everything a little bit easier.”
Phuong Huy Nguyen from Vietnam is graduating from Lake Orion this year.
“I think the study abroad program gives us the opportunity to meet new people and enhance our English skills,” he said.
Phuong says being an exchange student also helps develop independence and helps to prepare for college life – he will attend college at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada in the fall.
“I come to Michigan for this reason, because I want to prepare for the cold,” Phuong jokes.
Phuong has embraced becoming involved at Lake Orion High School, joining Teens in Action, the Cultural Outreach Club and the wrestling team.
“I like Lake Orion because the teachers are really nice and are really helpful. They give us any kind of help we need,” Phuong said. “I’ve made a lot of friends through clubs and activities. They are really nice.”
Students not placed with a host family live in a dormitory and don’t get the benefit of interacting with an American family daily.
“If a student lives with a host family, better than living in a dormitory, they can communicate with each other and learn some cultural from each other,” Phuong said.
Patcharaporn Salasil, a junior from Thailand, is studying in the United States for the second year – last year she was an exchange student in Louisiana.
“I plan to come back next year and try to get into college,” she said. “I want to learn English and in the United States, it’s a big country, to get new experiences and make more friends and do new stuff that I’ve never done before.”
Patcharaporn, who was on the JV dance team and a midfielder on the soccer team, says she’s made a lot of friends in Lake Orion and has developed a close relationship with her host family.
“For me, I’m pretty close with my host family. They are nice, and they have a good heart. I think it’s a good thing to become a host family. They give an opportunity to the student that they never had a chance to study abroad. They take care of each other and learn new culture from each other and try to understand each other.”
“My host family likes to do a lot of stuff, so my host mom usually plans a lot of stuff for us to do so we get more experiences,” Patcharaporn said.
When asked what she likes best about studying in the U.S., Patcharaporn couldn’t single out any one thing. “I can’t tell because I love everything over here.”
“I think every exchange student gets homesick sometimes, but it helps when you talk with the host parent and they try to find something for you to do and talk to you about stuff and try to make you feel better,” Patcharaporn said.