In lieu of overseas travels, host international students at home

Joe Tarica is the senior editor for The Tribune. Reach him at or on Twitter @joetarica.
Joe Tarica is the senior editor for The Tribune. Reach him at or on Twitter @joetarica.

We can’t afford to travel from California to Russia or Hong Kong, so this summer we’re doing the next best thing: bringing Russia and Hong Kong to California.

At the end of the month, we’ll be welcoming two international students who will stay at our house for about three weeks as part of EF Education First’s Educational Homestay Programs.

The organization brings students from around the world to the United States to study English and learn about American culture.

Unlike longer-term school exchanges, this program occurs in the summer in a much more manageable time frame.

I’m not sure we could handle another child for nine months, but we’re game for a few weeks.

It turns out EF has a rather robust presence here, running programs in both the North and South counties. The teenage students live with host families and attend full weekdays of language classes at Cal Poly.

This year, the North County program will be hosting more than 100 students.

We stumbled upon EF when a friend forwarded an email seeking local host families. So we asked for more information and received a number of student profiles, complete with photos and short biographies written in their own words.

It’s an intriguing process, perusing the various students and comparing their backgrounds.

This one says she’s neat and likes animals. That one looks a little grumpy. This one enjoys nature, camping and hiking. These ones are too old. Those two want to be together.

You almost feel like you’re picking kids out of a catalog. Mrs. Animal Doctor feels sad when we lean toward one over another. She wants to bring them all home, like a litter of homeless kittens.

At one point, she suggests we host three, and I remind her we only have two bathrooms, knowing that Mr. Big Sixth-Grader alternates between two-minute showers from which he emerges with barely wet hair to more lengthy endeavors featuring full renditions of Billy Joel songs that can be heard from anywhere in the house.

Fitting two other kids into that repertoire will be challenge enough.

At one point, we thought we liked two Russian girls from a dance school in Moscow, until we noticed one indicated she smokes. Deal breaker.

It also helps not to host two students who are friends or are even from the same country, so as to avoid having them gravitate to each other and speak in their native language.

For that reason, we ended up picking two solo kids, a 13-year-old from Russia and a 14-year-old from Hong Kong.

As much as we hope to help them improve their English skills and learn about the United States, we’re equally excited to learn about their cultures.

What a fantastic opportunity it will be for our kids to develop relationships with two youngsters from far around the globe. We have heard from others that even this short a visit can forge friendships that last for years.

The girls arrive in two weeks. Stay tuned for updates on our experience.

For more information on the EF Educational Homestay programs, visit

Joe Tarica is the senior editor for The Tribune. Reach him at or on Twitter @joetarica.