DOWNTOWN — Linda Brenden knows she’s changed at least one life from opening up her home to foreign exchange students.
During one of the 21 years she has hosted international high school students as part of Education First’s Foundation for Foreign Study, a boy from Scandinavia did not interact much with the other students and stayed close to adults. His father died a couple months prior to his trip. After a few weeks, Brenden found other foreign exchange students in the program who had been in similar situations and helped the boy connect with them.
“He was so despondent when he came that he wanted to go home, but by the time he left, he didn’t want to go home,” recalled Brenden, the area manager for EF. “I would never look back and say, ‘No, I could never (host a foreign exchange student).’”
Education First is currently searching for host families in Santa Monica and other areas of West Los Angeles for its first program in Malibu, which will start July 14 and last 18 days, though it has faced some difficulties recruiting families.
EF has been bringing foreign exchange students to America since 1979. Programs have been held across California, but Brenden, a Thousand Oaks resident, decided to expand the program to Malibu this year. One reason for that is because it is physically closer to where she lives. But she said also thinks students will enjoy the area.
“Kids want to come to Southern California,” she said. “They want to go to the beach.”
But because it is a new area and there is no base of host families to rely on, there has been some difficulty in finding hosts, said Nina Edwards, the program leader for Malibu. As of Friday, 48 of 101 students and five chaperones still needed to be placed in homes.
Edwards also attributed the slumping economy to deterring possible host families.
“People are a little less eager to have another mouth to feed,” she said.
Brenden said placing students in host homes is always a worry. Coordinators are beginning to run out of names and referrals to use, but EF is sending out fliers to local high school students to advertise the opportunity to host exchange students.
For the 18 days foreign exchange students are in Malibu, they will attend classes held at Our Lady of Malibu. Classes will be held Monday through Friday and include English, American culture and American history. They will also take trips and do activities like attend a Dodger game, go to Disneyland and visit San Francisco.
During the students’ stay, it is the host families’ job to act like surrogate parents, Edwards said. They must take the students to local bus stops during the week and provide dinner. They may also participate in some of the students’ activities.
Though Edwards has never been a host for EF students, she said her own experiences studying abroad attest to the benefits of hosting foreign exchange students. When she was in college, Edwards spent a couple weeks in Japan and stayed in a traditional Japanese household. She said she and her Japanese mom still exchange letters.
Brenden also said hosting foreign exchange students is as beneficial for the hosts as it is for the students. Because she has hosted before, when her own family went to Europe, they had people to visit and places to stay.
“My own kids knew every country on the map because they would say, ‘Oh, that’s where Alex comes from,’ or ‘Oh, that’s were Freddy comes from,’” she said.
And through the years, Brenden has seen the connections other host families have made with their students.
“People always tell me, ‘You never told us how difficult it is to say good bye.’”