By Sue Moore
Anyone who has hosted a foreign exchange student in Vicksburg wants it to be a great experience for both the family and the student, explained Kate Rizor. She is host mother to Ana Santiso, an exchange student from Galicia A Coruna, Spain who is currently a senior at Vicksburg High School. “They are great students and it’s rewarding to watch them grow, mature and develop during their year in the U.S.”
She and her husband, Steve, have hosted seven other students from abroad, most recently through the ASSE International Student Exchange program. Ana, 17, arrived at the Rizor’s home in Vicksburg through a competitive application process for Spanish students. She was one of 7,000 who applied for a scholarship awarded by Spain’s government. It involved getting good grades, intensive testing, an interview via Skype, and her parents submitting their financial status. Ana was chosen as one of the 100 eligible students to come to the States, with all expenses paid and a monthly stipend for her personal use.
“I’m very happy,” Ana said. Rizor said she was also very brave to leave home at the age of 16 for this unknown adventure. On September 4, 2015, Santiso got off the airplane in Kalamazoo. She rides the bus every day for a half-hour to get to school. She said she isn’t much of an athlete, but tried out for the girls’ basketball team and was accepted. “I know how to run, so I’ll probably go out for track. In fact my mom and I are going to do the 5K Color Run in April in Kalamazoo, although neither one of us are runners.”
The Rizors have made sure that Ana gets a taste of the Midwest with trips to Frankenmuth, Chicago and Houghton Lake for a canoe trip where she saw a spider and panicked, tipping the canoe and everyone in it. “I really hate spiders,” she declared. “But I really like the friends I have made here. I loved Halloween, Thanksgiving, Homecoming, the Christmas formal, because I love to dance. We went to the Florida Keys in January where I saw alligators, flamingos, roosters and chickens. The plan is to go to Kentucky over spring break with my family.”
The Rizors do not have any children of their own but have hosted three students from Germany, and one each from Japan, Armenia, Thailand, and China. Most of their students have gone on to college in their home countries and some have come back to visit.
Rizor says families who are interested in hosting an exchange student must submit an application, supply references and complete a background check and home inspection. “Ana is very tidy and she is the most responsible students we have hosted,” Rizor said.