Fourteen Spanish exchange students arrived in Plainwell on Sunday, June 27, for a five-week visit through the FLAG foreign student exchange program. During the welcome get-together, the group enjoyed a game of futbol with some American soccer players. (Photo provided)Twice a week the students gather together for social events.

Plainwell parents host a dozen exchange students

Walt Kaechele, Senior Correspondent

Twelve families in the Plainwell area are entertaining 14 Spanish exchange students for the next four weeks, and coordinator Paula DeSouza is excited by the support.

She said, “What I find amazing is that 12 of the 14 exchange students are being housed by people with ties to Plainwell, either living in the school district or employed by Plainwell schools. To place a dozen kids in a town this size, I find this pretty remarkable.”

The FLAG program is similar to other exchange programs in that it brings students from abroad to share their culture with us while experiencing ours. This is accomplished through a coordinator who looks for host families who are willing to provide room and board as well as offer a look at life here in the United States to kids from foreign lands.

“My job was to find housing for them and create and supervise the activities,” DeSouza said  “The two families hosting that are not from Plainwell, or employed by Plainwell schools, are employees of FLAG—one lives in Parchment and the other in Portage.

“We had our welcome party for the exchange students on Sunday, June 27.  The kids roasted hot dogs and made s’mores by the fire, which was the first time for all but two of them.  None of them had ever had a s’more before.  

“We’re getting together again tomorrow to teach them how to play (American) football and softball. The pictures were taken in my backyard, and, although I live in a neighborhood, it’s still kind of in a nature setting and we have tree frogs singing all evening long. When I showed my Spaniard the frog singing on our pool ledge, she told me she had never seen a frog before.”

The program is all about cultural sharing and not cultural shock, which can go both ways. Therefore, the students all come with spending money, round-trip plane tickets and full medical insurance. This way both the students and the host families will get an idea of what it could be like to be a host family—or year-long exchange student—without going through the angst of dealing with a case of prolonged homesickness.

The students are personally interviewed and screened by international partners according to FLAG’s pre-established selection criteria. They evaluate the students’ personality, maturity level, English skills, social references and academic background when reviewing each application. Then, the complete portfolio of each student is sent to FLAG’s central office to be shared with the group’s coordinator for matching with the right host family.

DeSouza said, “There are 12 exchange students that will operate as a group and there are two independents, but they all operate as a group when we get together twice a week for fun activities. The rest of the time is spent at the discretion of the host family.

“As a group, during the five-week program, we have two activities per week planned for socializing. There was the welcome get-together plus a day of flag football and softball the first week. The second week we will head to Michigan’s Adventure and the outlets in Michigan City.

“I also have planned a movie night, a trip to a Kalamazoo Growlers game, a day in Shipshewana and a day in Saugatuck.”

The goal of the program is to create bonds during these shorter stays to encourage students to enroll for a full year of foreign exchange study and hopefully create long-lasting bonds with the host families.

And with the support of host families like the ones in Plainwell, it looks as though the student foreign exchange program is in good hands and homes.


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