Rotary program offers unique experience

Published 9:00 am Friday, November 20, 2015

While traveling around the globe is an expensive and time-consuming hobby that many local families cannot afford, there is a simple way that Dowagiac residents can experience the culture of a foreign land without even leaving the house — by hosting an exchange student.

Dowagiac Rotary Club member and frequent exchange student host Marilu Franks talked about how local families can participate in the Rotary Youth Exchange program during Thursday’s club meeting at the Dowagiac Elks Lodge. The international service organization, which sponsors around 9,000 foreign students every year, seeks two to three host families for every exchange student they bring over to the U.S., Franks said.

In the local Rotary District 6360, local clubs have sponsored 32 different exchange students over the past year, she added.

Franks, along with her husband and fellow Rotarian Mike, have welcomed exchange students into their Dowagiac home since 1998, from countries all over the world, including Finland and Brazil, Franks said. The local couple remains in contact with many of the students they have hosted, even traveling to South America once to reunite with one of their former wards.

“People have said to me, ‘oh my gosh, I don’t want company for a year,’” she said. “You won’t have company for a year — as soon as the student walks through the door, you have a family member. It is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences you can have.”

The process of becoming a host family is also relatively simple, Franks said. While applicants are subjected to a background check and home inspection, past that the requirements are fairly straightforward.

“You don’t have to have a big beautiful home,” she said. “You don’t have to have spotless clean home — just can you provide the necessities for them, are you willing to take them to functions?”

The expense to the host family is also fairly minor — the students themselves are given an allowance of $75 per month by the Rotary program, and also are required to bring $250 of their own money that is deposited into an account for safe keeping. The students are also required to avoid what Franks called the “four D’s”: drugs, drinking, driving and dating.

In her and her husband’s nearly 20 years of hosting exchange students, one of the most rewarding things she has learned through her guests is how similar their problems and interests are to those children who live here in the U.S., she said.

“Right now, with all the problems in the world, we really need to have students in our homes so we can see their culture, we can understand them better and they can understand us better,” Franks said. “I firmly believe that’s the way to world peace.”

Locals interested in learning more about hosting Rotary exchange students can get more information at