Foreign exchange students welcome in Bladen County

Staff report

ELIZABETHTOWN — Who hasn’t dreamed about walking among the Egyptian pyramids, soaking in the sun on a beach in Spain or wandering along the Great Wall of China? Every parent wants to give their children a taste of the world, but the economic reality of international air travel, passports, hotels, and food causes many people to settle for the daydream.

The Bladen County School system recently made a decision that will bring to our doorsteps in Bladen County the international culture about which we dream, when they adopted a foreign exchange policy to accept a limited number of exchange students into the schools.

“Exchange programs are a strong, peace-promoting opportunity,” said to Elizabeth Keel, a host mom from Fairview. “Seeing first-hand how other cultures think and choose to behave defeats bigotry, rendering thoughtless cultural generalities meaningless. I am so fortunate to be hosting Yi, my exchange student from China, and to have this wonderful young woman in my life.”

The school system is teaming up with Ayusa, a U.S. Department of State designated exchange program company that places exchange students with host families. Ayusa matches host families with students from more than 60 countries, including Argentina, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Thailand, Turkey and many others, and they are currently looking for families in Bladen County that are willing to open their doors to these students.

“We welcome host families of all shapes and sizes — families with young children, families with no children, empty nesters whose children have left home, single parents, and non-traditional families,” said Connie Lawrence, community representative for Ayusa. “The key requirements for a host family are to provide a safe and nurturing home environment, genuinely love children, and have a desire to learn more about a different culture.”

Volunteer families can host students for one semester — from August 2016 through January 2017 — or for an entire academic year — from August 2016 through June 2017.

Host families provide foreign exchange students a nurturing environment, three meals a day, and a bedroom, which can be either private or shared with a host sibling of the same gender. Host families and students are supported by a professionally trained community representative who works with the family and student for the entire program.

Interested families are required to fill out an application, pass a background check, and interview with a local exchange program representative in their home. Once accepted to the program, host families can view profiles of students to find the right match for their family.

“Hosting an exchange student is a life-changing experience — for the student, the host family and the host community,” said Lawrence. “There is no better way to teach your children about the world around them than through welcoming an international high school student into your home.”

For information about hosting a high school foreign exchange student, contact Lawrence at 919-552-3647,, or visit

Staff report

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