FAQ – USAI Cultural Exchange Program

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What is the goal of the USAImmersion (USAI) Cultural Exchange Program?
USAImmersion is a NY based not-for-profit organization that offers a wide range of cultural, academic and language immersion programs for foreign students, adults and professionals interested in coming to the U.S. We created the USAI Cultural Immersion Program to bridge cultural gaps and allow foreign students the opportunity to live as part of an American community. The program also aims to provide our host families, students, schools, summer camps and representatives with a global perspective, promoting a brighter future at home, at work and throughout the world. Together with your help we can bring the world closer and promote international understanding.

Why be a host family?
Opening your home to an Exchange Student is a great way to learn about another culture. Our students look forward to learning about the foods, customs and culture of the U.S. and share the same about their home countries.
There are many reasons why American families choose to host an Exchange Student:

  • It’s a great way to make a contribution to international understanding and exposing childred to these values
  • Children like to have a new housemate and the experience may result in unique friendships that last a lifetime
  • Children learn about other cultures and realize how to look at things with a different perspective and the importance of being flexible and open
  • Hosting international students can be mentioned in resumes and college applications to demonstrate intercultural experience

Do I have to send my son or daughter overseas in order to host an international student?

No. The word “exchange” may be misleading. Within the USAI program, the word “exchange” refers to an exchange of cultures and ideas, as opposed to a literal exchange of family members, although USAI does offer “study abroad” programs for US students.

Will the foreign student speak English? What else can you tell me about these students?

Exchange students who come for an Academic Year take an ESL Exam (such as TOEFL) to qualify them as having a working knowledge of the English language. Students who are coming for a Summer Immersion Program are given an oral test to ensure they are able to communicate with their families and have at least an intermediate level of English. Students also need to demonstrate a minimum of three years of English instruction. Most of the students who attend summer programs have already been abroad but this is usually their first time in the U.S. Please keep in mind that these students will need time to get used to the American accent as they most likely received English instruction in British English. Once your online profile has been filled out and submitted to USAI, we’ll proceed with matching your family with a student that fits the criteria you have outlined in your registration form.

Most of our students come in a school group accompanied by a school teacher. The teacher serves as chaperon for the trip and supervisor while the students are in the U.S. Sometimes, teachers pay visits to families or take the students on day trips. These students have been thoroughly screened to participate in the USAI program. As explained above, they have to prove they have a certain command of the English language. Also, they have to submit recommendations from teachers and have a good GPA to participate in the program. Finally, students are given an orientation before departure on common American cultural cues as well as USAI rules and regulations.

How are Host Families screened?

Most of our families are referred to us through the camps, schools, churches and community organizations and International Coordinators we work with. Each potential host family must fill out an application form which provides a detailed summary and profile of the family. Each family is screened by a Local Coordinator in a home interview — all members of the family may or may not be present. The host family must provide personal references from members of their community, camp or school attesting to their good character. Prior to the host family acceptance, the references will be verified and a criminal background check will be done.

Am I qualified to host an Exchange Student?

There is no typical Host Family. Sometimes families have teens, young children, children who grew up and left home, no children, single parents, divorced parents, grandparents, etc. They live in cities, suburbs or rural communities. Our students are also from diverse family situations. Most of them come from urban environments. Using your interests and preferences, USAI will match you with an exchange student to your family situation.

What are my responsibilities as a Host Parent?

We do not ask our Host Families to become legal guardians for the exchange students. All we ask of our host families is to care for the students as they would their own children and treat them not as guests, but rather as members of the family. This means that the families are expected to provide a clean living environment, good nourishment and love. The students will provide their own spending money for expenses incurred outside of the home. All students bring their own medical and accident insurance coverage.

Does the student have to go to school or summer camp?

Yes, for academic year programs. School is an integral part of the exchange experience and a requirement by the Dept of State as exchange students enter the country on a student visa. It is essential that the exchange student becomes an active part of that system. The student is also encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities that are offered in each school.

In the summer time, international students may choose to participate in a home-stay only or a summer camp program. It may also be the case that the summer camp experience runs shorter than the student’s stay at your home. You should discuss with your USAI International Coordinator if your family will be available to do activities during the time the student is not in camp or school.

What must a host family provide for their student?

Students are provided with spending money for the duration of their stay in the United States. They have medical, accident and liability insurance during their stay in the U.S. American host families provide students with a place to sleep, meals, and a loving supportive home life. Students are allowed to share a bedroom with the host family’s teen of the same gender, but he or she must have an individual bed.

Can young children benefit from hosting?

Many of the students accepted into the program indicate an interest in being placed in families with small children. As for your own children, their facility for learning a language is never greater than when they are young; and their interest, curiosity and acceptance of people different from themselves is strongest at a young age.
I think my house may be too small. Doesn’t a student need his own room?

Program participants are prepared to share a bedroom with a child of the same gender. The only requirements are that the exchange student must be provided with his or her own bed, and that the host sibling sharing the room be at least 10 years of age. We have found that a student who shares a room with a host sibling often makes the transition from exchange student to family member more quickly.

Are Host Families compensated?

USAI Host Families choose to participate because of the cultural benefits they gain from hosting. There is a $100 weekly food stipend for families participating in the Total Immersion Program. Families participating in the Day Camp Cultural Exchange Program receive a Fellowship from USAI to send a family member for free to a local Day Camp together with their international student. Families who wish to participate in the Day Camp Cultural Exchange Program but are not able to send a family member to Day Camp, receive a $100 weekly food stipend. Also, there is a $200 roundtrip airport service stipend for those families who choose to pick up and drop off the student at JFK/Newark International Airports.

Why do Host Families need to go through a criminal background check?

In May 2006, the US State Department revised its regulations for Secondary Programs to include criminal background checks for all host families. Such a requirement has been standard for many years with other youth based organizations, including the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, youth sports clubs, school administrators and day care centers. These measures will continue to support our policy to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our participants.

Host family background checks must be completed before the student arrives to begin his/her program. Each adult member of the host family must submit a separate background check authorization. Background checks are performed by professional organizations, such as Intellicorp Records Inc. This search will access information from the department of corrections, state criminal records, county court records, sex offender registries and other criminal records databases. This search will not reveal any credit or financial information and is compliant with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guidelines.

Generally, no person convicted of a felony may participate in this program. Misdemeanor convictions of a non-violent nature will be reviewed by the USAI staff for final adjudication and fair treatment. An experienced member of USAI management will call you to discuss any records appearing on the background check. With your explicit permission only, some information may be provided to the natural parents of the student you would like to host. Only USAI management will have access to the results of background checks. This information will not become public knowledge. Criminal history information will be used only for the purpose of evaluating the person or person’s ability to work with or host exchange students.

How can I get more information about hosting a USAI student?

  • Visit us at usaimmersion.org
  • Call USAI at 845-688-2434
  • Send an e-mail to info@usaimmersion.org
  • Write to us at: 111 Stony Clove Lane, New York, NY 11746

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