International students, host families learn each other's culture

Exchange student Hun Kong, left, gets tips from host mom Emily Ashton during a hot game of Yahtzee on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2016, with fellow exchange student Zinyi "Cindy" Li, back left, and host dad Craig Ashton at their home in Tyler. The students, both from China, are attending T.K. Gorman High School this year. Andrew D. Brosig/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP

Every year, students from around the world come to the United States to live with an American family as an exchange student.

Through such programs, the student is able to experience life in the United States and practice their English with native speakers. Host families are able to learn more about the student's country of origin. 

In light of the pandemic, it became unclear whether such programs would continue.

Erika Perez, area representative of the ASSE Foreign Student Exchange program, said ASSE will continue providing exchange students the opportunity to come to the United States despite the pandemic. 

"We are excited for the 2020-2021 school year and hosting students from around the world! We anticipate the added value of cultural exchange to our American schools to continue as it has for the past 40 years. ... Although our program was shortened this year as a result of COVID-19, we plan to keep on doing just that this year," Perez said. 

The program coordinates with students from 30 different countries, including China, Italy, Spain and Mexico. 

In 2015, Martin Karges, of German, was hosted by a family near Boston. 

"We were very warmly welcomed by the parents and children and felt like parts of their families within hours," he said. "We went to class together, had lunch and experienced the vast sports program. It was a great experience, teaching us more about America than a textbook ever could."

Although he had a positive experience, he does not believe it is a wise idea for students to take part in an exchange program this year due to the pandemic.

"I would personally not recommend any costly, planning-intensive intercontinental trips this year, as the opening of borders is uncertain," he said. "Currently Europeans are not allowed to visit the U.S. until further notice, and until the current situation changes significantly, that is not likely to change," he said.

In a post on Facebook, the Tyler Paper asked peoplewhether families in the area would be comfortable hosting a student in light of the pandemic. 

Dulce Carolina responded: "Difficult question, I would love to accept a student in from any country, because I understand the importance of education, especially through the great opportunity for students to study in a first world school, but in these difficult times for everyone's safety I think we should all avoid travel."

Adrian Kellerman said: "I agree with Dulce. The limitation in travel, online classes, and lack of contact with other students turns an amazing opportunity into a nightmare. A nephew of one of my closest friends came to the U.S. from Spain to study in a university here. Of course everything was wonderful until they closed the school for COVID-19. In the dorms, the only students left were international students and they couldn't leave. They didn't even have the chance to go back to their countries. A year of immersion shouldn't turn into a year of reclusion."

Three people said "no," they would not want to host an exchange student this year and do not feel it is safe for foreign exchange programs to continue during the pandemic.