Education Travel and Culture (ETC), a nonprofit educational exchange organization, is looking for host families for foreign exchange students in Lincoln County. One of the organization’s goals is to promote international understanding and goodwill by providing quality educational and cultural exchange programs in the United States and abroad.

“We want to show them what the real America is,” ETC’s Regional Manager Cassie Marez said. “That’s the purpose of our program, to break down these misconceptions so kids see what America is really about.”

Host families can be any size or configuration, not necessarily what’s considered a nuclear family. However, host families must have resources to house and care for a student. The families are essentially volunteers. It’s illegal for them to be paid. The family has to provide a bed -- no couches or foldouts. The exchange student can share a room with a child around their own age.

“The government sets certain standards to abide by,” Marez said. “But we go above and beyond because we think that one-on-one attention is what creates these great communities.”

Potential host families are stringently vetted. ETC performs a criminal background check and families are required to provide personal references. They inspect the home and interview all residents. After the student is placed, ETC stays in contact with the student on a monthly basis and the host family homes are visited every other month.

“This is not a program where you pick up a kid then you drop them off and you don’t see anyone during that time,” Marez said. “We’re very involved.”

Exchange students enter the country on a J-1 visa, meaning education must be their top priority.

According to the Dept. of State (DOS) website, the primary goals of the Exchange Visitor Program are to allow participants the opportunity to engage broadly with Americans, share their culture, strengthen their English language abilities, and learn new skills or build skills that will help them in future careers.

Companies that place exchange students in the United States are required to be nonprofit and are regulated by the DOS and Homeland Security. According to Marez, students chosen are vetted in their home countries and interviewed by ETC. An English test is required to prove they’re proficient enough English to succeed in school.

ETC can help facilitate a good match for an approved host family by allowing them to review student profiles. They can choose a student that they think would be a good match for their family by gauging their interests, country of origin and background.

ETC places approximately 300 students each year throughout the country. Twenty-five to 30 of those students end up in North Carolina. Marez is hoping to place two more students in Lincoln County in addition to a German student set to start Lincolnton High School in the coming school year. Marez said that having several exchange students in a community allows for the students and host families to have a support system in each other.

“Why not Lincoln County, right?” Marez said. “It’s Americana. It’s a great experience for our kids. They come to America wanting a real American experience and small towns are just as real as big cities.”

For more information visit Edutrav.org and click the Host a Student tab.

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