American Councils seeking host families for exchange students

From left, Eliza Kuznetsova, Leigh Ann Parker, Kristina Saykovic and Katie French. (Contributed)

By MOLLIE BROWN / Community Columnist

American Councils, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., has many educational programs to benefit students around the world. Katie French, program assistant Inbound Department, visited Calera High School in December to check on attending exchange students.

French works with Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), American, Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) and Youth Exchange and Study (YES). All three programs, fully funded by the U.S. State Department, provide merit-based scholarships to high school students to come to the U.S. to study for one academic year.

French works with local coordinators to find host families and to ensure things go smoothly year round.

“We work on student support issues like students who have a hard time adjusting,” French said. “We help to make the best of their experience here in the United States.”

The application process for host families has started for the 2012-2013 program year. No student can arrive in the U.S. without a slated host family and a school that will enroll them.

“Ideally a host family wants to apply in the spring because they would get first choice of the students,” French said. “We’ll place students up to Aug. 31, the deadline set by the U.S. State Department.”

Requirements for host families are: provide the student with his/her own bed to sleep in (can share a room with same sex), three meals a day and place to study. In addition, they must pass the application process and be ready to welcome great kids into their homes for a truly life-changing experience.

French said unforeseen things come up and she works with the local coordinator to facilitate transition for the family and student.

“We understand emergencies happen. We hope it would be temporary, but we can find another family if need be,” she said.

Leigh Ann Parker is the local coordinator. She and husband Neal are hosting Russian student Eliza Kuznetsova. The day she arrived, Kuznetsova was shocked at the outpouring of kindness and finds it hard to believe she’s here.

“I still can’t believe I’m in America,” Kuznetsova said. “Everyone is so kind. I want to come back and attend a university.”

Serbian student Kristina Saykovic is hosted by Kaylin and Kory Foster. Saykovic came to the U.S. to improve her English, make new friends and mesh with the culture.

“Now I have a family here — three sisters and a mom and dad,” Saykovic said.

More information about getting involved is on their website, Contact Parker,, to start the application process.


Mollie Brown can be reached at