WESTFIELD-An area nonprofit student exchange program is seeking host families to house international students during the upcoming 2013-14 school year.
International Fellowship, a Westfield-based organization, has approximately 20 students left to place and, in addition to host families, is also seeking individuals who may be interested in acting as local representatives to help in the recruitment of families.
According to Bonnie Zent, IF's executive assistant, the deadline to apply is Aug. 31, despite an ongoing search process.
"It's a continuous, year-round process," said Zent. "Students go through an interview and screening process, and applications are sent to our office and out to the local reps. We always allow families to choose the student they feel best matches with their family. Families must be totally vetted before they can see a picture (of the student)."
Originally founded in Buffalo by Zent's grandmother, Mildred Brown, IF has been family-owned and operated since 1952. According to Zent, the main office was relocated to Westfield in 1979, by which time the organization had served more than 30,000 students worldwide. Currently, she said IF has worked with more than 50,000 students. Zent said the number has tapered in recent decades due to the growing number of student exchange programs in the country.
In addition to the U.S., IF has working relationships with several foreign countries, including: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Equador, El Salvador, England, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Spain and South Korea. IF also affords U.S. students the opportunity to travel abroad.
"We always allow families to choose the student they feel best matches with their family."
International Fellowship executive assistant
Students who participate in IF can choose from several programs, including a six-month semester program, a 10-month academic year program and a 12-month calendar year program, which is currently only available in South Korea.
"Our students are teenage ambassadors," said Zent. "And it does help with, as the government would state it, 'public diplomacy.' If they have had a good experience here, they're going to have positive things to say while abroad. Our motto is, 'Through knowledge and friendship come understanding and goodwill.'"
For more information about becoming a host family, local representative or about International Fellowship, visit internationalfellowship.org or call 1-800-647-8839.