- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

Many host families keep in touch with their exchange students long after the requisite stay is over. Although there is no hard data about the number of families who stay connected or for how long, some families keep up with their foreign students for years.

“We have parents all the time who travel to visit, to meet up with their old students,” says Reid Rago, director of development at Youth for Understanding, a nonprofit student-exchange program.

Granted, the longer your student stays with you, the longer you are likely to stay connected after the school year is over. Even students who have stayed with host families for just a week or two may keep in touch via e-mail, however.

“We’ve e-mailed back and forth a couple of times since then,” says Zoe Ahmad, 15, a Northwest resident who participated in an exchange program last year as an eighth-grader at Washington Episcopal School. “And I’ve seen them online every once in a while.”

E-mail, Instant Messaging and the Internet certainly have speeded up communication and made it easier for students and their host parents to keep up with one another. Yet if you really want to keep connected with your student, you need to start laying the groundwork long before he or she starts packing to return home.

• Let the student know he or she is valued while here.

“We get cards all the time [from former exchange students],” Mrs. Bradley says. “I think it’s because we make such a big event out of all the holidays. When they were here, we would leave cards for them all the time.”

• Get to know their parents. Many host families make a special effort to connect with the biological parents of their exchange students.

“This is a big undertaking for them,” Mrs. Bradley says. “They’ve sent their children off for almost a year. We want to let them know that they’re safe and taken care of.”

How to do it? Send e-mail, write a letter or even make a phone call. Over the years, Mrs. Bradley and her husband have grown especially close to one set of parents. They have traveled extensively with them and remain quite close to their child.

Recently, Mrs. Bradley, her husband, and their exchange-student “daughter,” Mirano, met up with Mirano’s parents at a convention in Hawaii.

“We had such a good time, and they were so appreciative of meeting us,” Mrs. Bradley says.

Looking to reconnect?

• Join an alumni association. Host families and their exchange students often reconnect through organization alumni associations.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to sign up and find out what’s going on with the click of a mouse. Just go to the sponsoring organization’s Web site.

Many alumni associations sponsor community service activities that students and their host families can perform together (if one or the other is willing to travel, of course).

• Travel. If you are traveling to the home country of a former exchange student, you may find his or her whole family eager to connect with you.

“We’ve seen so many cities that are beautiful but not the kinds of places that a typical tourist might go,” Mrs. Bradley says. “When we were in Germany, we stayed with two sets of families and had a wonderful time.”

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