Exchange students in Kitsap County for the school year, through the Aspect Foundation. Photo courtesy of Jodi Moore

Hosting exchange students provides families opportunities to learn more about other cultures

A first time empty-nester, Jodi Moore turned to her years-long involvement in the Aspect Foundation to keep her home from feeling too quiet.

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 currently 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, recent memories was around Christmastime.

“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 coming 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. Ast 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 students’ year.”

Families are of course vetted; Moore will conduct in-home interviews and contact 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 Brazil, France, Norway, Hungary, Bangladesh, Israel, South Africa and so many more.

“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,” she added, “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 interested in being a host family for a student throughout Kitsap County, contact Jodi Moore at jodi.moore@aspectfoundation.org or 360-813-4999.

Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

 

Nanako and Rich Moore at Christmas. Nanako is an exchange student from Japan staying with Jodi and Rich Moore for the year. Photo courtesy of Jodi Moore