There's no telling what can happen when you--or your family--are willing to set an extra place at the table.
"My parents' willingness to open their home certainly brought a larger world to our doorstep," said Mary Kay Munson, who now serves as the volunteer coordinator for Kansas 4-H Youth Exchange programs.
"The visitors and the friendships that we formed with them and maintained through the years have expanded our horizons and increased our understanding of other cultures and of the common interests and goals that we share," she said.
Hosting international visitors also sparked a lifelong interest in travel for Munson, who dedicates her volunteer hours to exchange student programs. She currently is matching Kansas host families with exchange students who will be traveling to the United States this year from Japan, Sweden, England, Austria and the former Soviet Republics.
"We're looking for families who have an interest in getting acquainted with a larger world," Munson said. "Host families typically have good family relationships and enjoy daily life and each other. The emphasis is on people and their willingness to share and not on a large home or affluent lifestyle."
This year, students traveling to Kansas with the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program represent 4-H in Sweden, Young Farmers Clubs in England, and a similar organization--Landjugend--in Austria. Each IFYE participant will be in Kansas from six to 12 weeks between June 26 and Dec. 1, staying two to three weeks in each host home. Host homes in farm or rural communities are preferred.
"The short stays in this program offer a good opportunity for families to try hosting an exchange student before making a longer commitment," Munson said.
The exchange students from Japan and the former Soviet Republics anticipate attending Kansas high schools during the 2005-2006 school year, and each will need a host home from August 2005 until June 2006.
To be eligible for the travel award, exchange students must pass an English speaking and writing test and demonstrate leadership and citizenship. A written application and personal interviews are required, Munson said.
The exchange students being matched to a host home for the school year in Kansas represent the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, developed by the U.S. State Department to introduce students from the former Soviet Republics to a democratic society. They also represent the Japanese half of the 4-H Labo (short for Language Laboratory) and Language Experience Experiment and Exchange (LEX) programs, she said.
"Hosting an exchange student is an educational experience. While it can be helpful if a family has a student enrolled in the same school, it isn't a must," Munson said.
More information on the exchange students, programs and hosting opportunities is available at http://4-H.K-State.edu/worldcitizenship or by contacting Munson at 785-238-3631 or by e-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on Kansas 4-H programs is available at www.kansas4-h.org.