PORT ORCHARD — A first time empty-nester, Jodi Moore turned to her years-long involvement in the Aspect Foundation to keep her home from feeling too empty.
The Aspect Foundation is a nonprofit organization offering affordable study-abroad opportunities to students from around the world. Moore works as an field manager for the foundation, and is hosting an exchange student from Japan.
“It’s just fun,” Moore said. “There’s no words to describe it for me, because I’ve been doing it for so long.”
As a host family, Moore and her husband Rich provide their student with a place to sleep, a place to study, three meals a day, transportation to and from school at South Kitsap High School, and a welcoming environment.
“I would say the best part of hosting is watching somebody see or do something new, and just watching how much they either like it — or not like it,” Moore said.
Moore said she regularly takes her student, Nanako, to new places to experience as many aspects of life in the Pacific Northwest as possible. She said they have a Japanese food night every Sunday, when Nanako makes food and Moore “tries” to make food.
One of her best memories: “At Christmas time, (Nanako) wanted something American, a ‘real American Christmas gift,’ ” Moore said. “I went onto the Port Orchard Facebook page — Port Orchard was absolutely amazing. We got over 500 ideas. (Then Nanako) had a snow day. She’s never had a snow day. She went, ‘I got my American Christmas gift.’ ”
As a field manager, Moore works to find host families for students from all over the world through the Aspect Foundation. The hosts can be anyone — single or married, young or old — so long as the student will have a place to sleep and study, meals, and a way to get to and from school everyday. Students are between the ages of 15 and 18 and arrive about a week before the school year starts; they return home around mid-June.
“I’m looking for families that want to learn about another culture,” Moore said, “ones that want to take an interest in their students, [learn] about their countries and share their own traditions.”
Families are matched with students largely based on similar interests. As part of the application process, Moore said she gets to know the families and their hobbies and interests. One student she recently found a home for next year for loves Harry Potter, animals and soccer. She was matched with a family with animals; the dad plays soccer; and the daughter loves Harry Potter.
“The more you do with your students, the closer you get to them,” Moore said. “I want a family that wants to be proactive in their exchange student’s year.”
Families are vetted; Moore conducts in-home interviews and contacts three references, and anyone living in the house 18 or older has to pass a background check.
“We want to make sure we have the best families,” Moore said. “It’s about quality, not quantity. We want the best we can give these kids.”
If, for some reason, a family and a student aren’t getting along well, there are protocols for that, too. Moore said she holds a host family-student meeting to try and help fix the problem, but if it’s unresolvable, she finds the student a new family to stay with.
“We look to see if we can fix the problem,” Moore said. “If we can’t fix it, then I do move the student. It’s nobody’s fault, (they’re) just not a good fit. Then we just move forward.”
Sometimes, families can host two exchange students. Students can even share a room with each other or with the host family’s children — a common myth, Moore said, is that they have to have their own room — provided the person the student shares with is of the same gender and within five years of the student’s age, younger or older.
“What’s important to me is that the student is treated as part of the family, that they are loved,” Moore said. “These kids, I have so much respect for them coming so far away from home and leaving their comfort zone. I really love these kids.”
Some of the countries exchange students come from include Bangladesh, Brazil, France, Hungary, Israel, Norway, and South Africa.
“You see all these different countries coming together, and that’s what the world needs right now,” Moore said. “Yes, you are bringing in a stranger, but when that student goes home in June, they’re leaving as a family member. That’s what you’re gaining: a new son or a new daughter.”
If you are interested in being a host family for a student throughout Kitsap County, contact Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-813-4999.
Michelle Beahm is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at email@example.com.