Exchange Program in Menifee Welcomes International Students

Students from China, France, Italy and other nations are staying with local families this week a...

Students from China, France, Italy and other nations are staying with local families this week and learning about American culture.
In a world with many countries, cultures and languages, Menifee and countless other U.S. cities are helping to bridge the cultural gap through the Education First Homestay Program.

For the next two weeks, a group of foreign exchange students are staying with local host families, studying at Bell Mountain Middle School and taking trips to local landmarks and entertainment venues such as Disneyland. Terina Matthews, the EF Homestay site director for the area, describes the program as a culturally unique opportunity where exchange students and host families alike learn about other customs, while teaching students better English language skills.

The EF Homestay Program in Menifee Valley is hosting 160 students from five different countries: China, France, Hong Kong, Italy and Spain. Matthews said it’s a very beneficial experience for all involved.

“It bridges a gap between our countries,” said Matthews. “It gets rid of stereotypes and negative feelings … with us, it’s like, ‘I don’t care where you’re from; we’re all friends here.’ It’s an amazing program that fosters international friendship.”

One of the reasons the program is so successful is the student-family matching process. Matthews said a lot of time goes into placing students with families, and their number one goal is to provide a place where students can feel at home.

Each student has a profile that includes his or her interests, hobbies and information about home life. Host families have the chance to look at the profiles to see which students would be most comfortable at their home. This process helps the students feel more at ease with traveling and gets rid of homesickness.

Darlene Firth has been a host mother for over 10 years and now works to help match students with host families.

“I love the program’s atmosphere,” said Firth. “The kids really connect with other kids from different countries, and at the end when you’re saying goodbye and see the outpour of emotion, you really know how much of a connection and a difference you’ve made in a kid’s life.”

Matthews and Firth said families love showing host students their home and the many amenities California has to offer. The students like to show their host families about their culture. This includes talking about home life and even cooking a traditional dinner for the host family.

The EF Homestay Program places a huge emphasis on building English language skills, and students are expected to be in class for several hours during th