Exchange students teach kids about their cultures, nonprofit searches for host families - East Idaho News

Exchange students teach kids about their cultures, nonprofit searches for host families

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IDAHO FALLS — Over 20 exchange students taught kids and teachers about their countries, in hopes they would learn more about their cultures and peak an interest in potentially becoming host families.

On Thursday, at Alturas International Academy, nearly 25 students from 12 countries, like Denmark, Brazil, Turkey and Thailand, went to classrooms and presented about their countries. They shared what kind of food they eat, what they do for school and what their home life is like.

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Students at Alturas International Academy learn about different countries on Thursday. | Andrea Olson,

“I have been working on the presentation for a while with my dad back home in Denmark. He’s been helping me out with it. I am excited to share about my country,” said Victor Jensen, an exchange student who attends Blackfoot High School.

Victor is 16 years old and has a mother, father and a younger sister. He shared with students the similarities and differences between the United States and his country, Denmark.

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Victor Jensen presenting information about his country in front of students on Thursday. | Andrea Olson,

“We celebrate Christmas like you guys, except we celebrate it on the 24th. We don’t have Thanksgiving. We have Easter as you do. We have Midsummer,” Victor said.

Victor has been an exchange student since August, but has been to the United States multiple times before because he enjoys it. Idaho has been a good experience for him, but he’s unsure of the weather.

“The weather got me. When I arrived, it was 90 degrees. I was like, okay, that’s good. It’s hot. I like it warm. But when it started to get later in the winter, and really cold and there was a lot of snow, I have been joking around that we’ve been in an ice age,” he said laughing.

The host family he lives with has a mother, father, two kids and another exchange student from Spain.

“Very nice people. We do stuff together, and we talk about a lot of stuff. I personally enjoy cooking, and they like that, and that’s my way of helping. I have my chore. I clean bathrooms, which I do once a week, and they have been very nice to me,” Victor said.

Merrilee Leslie helped bring the exchange students, like Victor, together to present at Alturas International Academy. She is an area representative with International Student Exchange. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1982 and has provided quality exchange programs for over 30,000 exchange students around the United States, according to its website.

Leslie told she loves learning from the exchange students and encourages families to experience hosting.

“We are looking for host families for the Fall. We accept everyone who wants to host, who comes from all walks of life because our students come from all walks of life, so anybody who is interested in hosting, we are looking for host families in August,” she said.

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Merrilee Leslie and one of her exchange students from Thailand, Luksika Hemprom. | Andrea Olson,

According to ISE, over the past ten years, the Idaho regional staff has enriched the lives of over 650 exchange students and countless American kids and families in communities across the state. The students have attended more than 130 different public high schools in Idaho.

According to a pamphlet Leslie passed out, it said, “Small towns, big hearts: Small towns often mean greater connection—perfect for exchange students looking to experience a new way of life, gain new perspectives and improve their English skills.”

Leslie is currently hosting two students — one from Thailand and another from South Korea — and explained it’s a life-changing experience.

“My boys love it. My boys are young. They are four and three …They call them their sisters. They love them. It’s a really cool experience,” she said. “I love traveling the world, but there is something really special about bringing the world into your home and showing your kids a different culture.”

Leslie said if anyone is interested in having an experience like hosting a high school exchange student, you can apply to be a host family by clicking here.

The different flags hanging up on walls inside Alturas International Academy. | Andrea Olson,