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Cultural experience

For many young people around the world, coming to the United States to study English, and local culture, would be a golden opportunity. Locally, a few organizations are trying to make those dreams come true and the schools in Harrison County are working to ensure they have a good experience when they come here.
Center for Cultural Interchange is one of at least three organizations in and around Harrison County that places students from around the world in local host families so the students can experience life in Southern Indiana.
It’s under the theme of ‘total immersion’ in that a non-English speaking person is placed into an English-speaking home, with all the different traditions and cultural anomalies, hoping to learn by example and repetition.
Jill Robertson with CCI has been placing exchange students in homes locally for the past three years, as well as placing them in Floyd, Washington and Clark counties.
Robertson said she gets families mostly through a referral system, using families who already have an exchange student or those who have hosted previously.
‘That way, I’m already getting sort of a personal reference,’ Robertson said.
But, she can also advertise, post brochures, hand out cards and place yard signs, the last of which has garnered results, especially in the Lanesville area.
‘It’s a numbers game, like anything else,’ she said. ‘It’s just a matter of finding them.’
For CCI, the program is not what Robertson calls a ‘true exchange,’ since usually students from here do not take the place of their foreign counterparts. However, there are specific outbound programs that allow students, adults and even families to participate in foreign study.
Usually, though, CCI exchange students come to the United States for a 10-month academic-year program, and they have at least a year of English language study before applying.
‘Applications come in from all over the world,’ Robertson said, and each of the four U.S. districts CCI is divided into gets an equal number of student applications. The deadline to place is Aug. 31, and CCI has a guarantee to place all students whose applications are accepted.
For families who want to host, Robertson has condensed student applications that can be provided via e-mail and families can choose a student they feel would ‘fit’ best into their family dynamic.
Students answer questions about things like pets, allergies, GPA, athletics, religion and many other things, as well as including a SLEP score in their application packet. SLEP, or Secondary Level English Proficiency test, gives an approximate score to the fluency of English the student knows.
‘It’s to guarantee they will be able to start off with enough English speaking skills, listening skills, to start out with their families and the school,’ Robertson said. ‘That’s one of the main reasons kids come here, to learn English.’
Once a family has chosen a student, based on whatever their preferences are, the student will write a letter to his or her host family, introducing themselves and telling about their lives.
‘That letter,’ Robertson said, ‘I could just sit and read those all day.’
She said those letters really showcase the students’ personalities, especially because they ‘tend to be more honest on paper.’
The next step of the process involves a family interview, in their home, so Robertson can make sure the exchange student has adequate surroundings. Some of the things they must have are their own bed, but not necessarily their own bedroom, and if they have a roommate, they must be of the same sex and within a few years of age either way. CCI also requires a background check of the host family, as well as three personal references.
Once the placement is made, Robertson said an e-mail full of information about the student is sent to the family and, in this day and age of international technology, they can begin contacting each other right away, exchanging information about the upcoming months.