Embracing the Mustang culture and suburban life

April 12, 2011 -- Nearly every year, at least one student comes to Strongsville to embrace the Mustang culture and suburban life.

By ANN MORRISON

Strongsville Post associate editor

Every year, students from all over the world travel to the cities, suburbs and small towns in America to learn about the culture. And nearly every year, at least one student comes to Strongsville to embrace the Mustang culture and suburban life.

One of the organizations that hosts exchange students each year is the American Field Service. AFS has been placing students with local families for over 50 years, and is hoping to bring one more into town for the 2011-12 school year.

The students come from all different backgrounds and cultures, and are matched with families of similar interests. Both the student and the host family have some input about what they are looking for so that the experience will start off well from the very first day.

Strongsville resident Jean Wittrock is involved with AFS, and has hosted two exchange students in the past. The Wittrocks and their former exchange students are still in regular contact, and have formed a close bond.

"It's not like you're just gaining a student for a year; you're gaining a family member and often another whole family," Wittrock said.

Along with teaching the students about America, the host families also have the opportunity to learn a lot about another culture. While the students are in town, they spend a lot of time with the host family, but they also have many activities and school to occupy much of their time. School work is strongly emphasized, and is an important part of American life. Many of the students also join clubs or sports teams while they are here as well. Throughout the year, exchange students from neighboring schools will also take trips together to learn more history and see more of their new surroundings.

"It's such a nice way to introduce someone else to our culture and to show them what is important to us here in our country, but people will also learn a lot from them. Sometimes families will even go visit their exchange students once they go back home because they really form a connection," Wittrock said.

Each of the students who come over through the AFS program comes with high recommendations from their teachers and mentors back home, as well as excellent grades. Most of them speak proficient English, though many come with the intention of improving on the language. After spending an entire school year in America, nearly all of them go home with a much improved grasp of the English language.

The exchange students arrive in town in early August and stay through June. They typically come with their own spending money, as well as support from the local AFS. The group provides a liaison to the student and the family to offer assistance and advice whenever it is needed. The liaisons are typically people who have had their own exchange student in the past, and know what situations may arise throughout the year.

The other group that regularly hosts exchange students is the Rotary Club. Their group has the student stay with two different families throughout the year, and provides similar support during the stay.

Those who may be interested in learning about the AFS exchange student program are encouraged to call Wittrock at 440-567-5152.

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