By Sue Moore
“I just want to help people,” says Carolyn Kitzmiller, area coordinator for the International Exchange (IE) program. “In a small way, helping to find host families for exchange students is my way of helping the world become a more peaceful place.”
Kitzmiller has been pretty successful at that, according to Vicksburg High School officials who have worked with her. For the 2015-16 school year she has found host families for 17 students, 12 of them at Vicksburg, three in Three Rivers, one in Schoolcraft and one in Coloma in her job as coordinator.
“There has got to be someone around to look after these kids. That’s the role I take on all year long. I’ve been doing this for four years and had six stay with me and even welcomed one other student during Christmas break into our home. These are such good kids, usually better than a family’s own kids because they are on their best behavior. I do have to become the enforcer if they are on their phone too much, but that’s just minor. These are just kids, after all.”
She finds that Vicksburg students are very accepting of the exchange students. It can be hard to make new friends when most of the kids have known each other since their elementary years, she says. “Our kids make an extra effort to welcome exchange students to their school. The one hardship is finding rides all the time as they are not allowed to drive in the U.S. In Europe they are so used to having public transportation available.”
Finding host families is a big part of Kitzmiller’s job with IE. She gets the best results from her “meet and greet” sessions at local churches. “I often bring students with me to talk to potential families so they know what they are getting into.” She matches kids with the families by looking at personalities, the type of pets in the home–and the diets, since she has had several students who are vegan or vegetarian. “I stay in contact with my students all the time and call each and every one of them on their birthdays. Last week I called Rodrigo Guerra in Madrid on his birthday. His dad got on the phone and thanked me for his son’s best year ever while he was in Vicksburg. Now his daughter Maria is here, enjoying a year of learning English and following in her brother’s footsteps.”