Area foreign exchange program seeks host families

Published 7:59 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

NILES — Residents do not necessarily have to pack their suitcases and travel to a far-off destination to immerse themselves in a new culture.

Christina King, an area representative with the Council on International Educational Exchange, said the program offers a chance for southwest Michigan residents to be a host to high school students across the globe.

First, though, King said the nonprofit needs more people to open up their homes for the program.

The experience can offer an opportunity for students and their new families alike. For people that do participate, there is an opportunity to make memories and bridge cultural gaps.

“Not everybody can afford to travel all over the world, but you can have it in your living room if you’re willing to open your doors,” King said. “That’s kind of the great thing about it.”

King said the program has also helped to form lifelong friendships. In some cases, the residents have been invited back to the student’s country to experience their culture after they host them.

“We have a current family who hosted in our organization, and they had small kids — they formed such a bond that they see each other twice a year,” King said. “It is just like extending your family.”

King said it is also a chance to share American culture and the local area with people from around the world. Most foreign exchange students in the program stay for a school year. The students are also required to complete community service projects while they are visiting.

Students who apply cannot come to the U.S. unless they have a family that can host them.

“We have lots of kids that want to be here and we have a hard time finding host families,” King said.

For some families, King said there is some trepidation about opening their home to a stranger.

While this might feel like a natural reaction, she said, the program offers a variety of support to hosts and makes regular checks ins to assist throughout the student’s stay. King also said the experience has a broader goal of bridging cultural gaps.

“If we make these small changes, we can make a bigger difference in the whole world just by doing it in our small communities,” King said. “They want to learn. They want to be part of America.”

She encouraged people considering the program to reach out and connect with another host who has been through the experience.

CIEE was founded in 1947. The nonprofit connects roughly 2,000 students a year with host families across America.

Those interested in applying must pass a background check. Those who sign up are volunteering to offer up their home for free to the student and provide meals for them. Those who host a family can get a tax deduction. To find out more about the program, King encouraged them to reach out to her at or (574) 993-2018. To learn more about CIEE, visit