USC seeks host families for Thai exchange program

Published Mar 27, 2013 at 11:22 am (Updated Mar 27, 2013 at 11:22 am)

Upper St. Clair High School is once again getting ready to welcome students and teachers from Thailand for its Thai-USA Student Cultural Exchange program, and 20 exchange students are still in need of host families.

Luck Groves, who has helped coordinate the exchange since it began in 2005, said the Thai students have already purchased plane tickets and received their visas to the United States. They have been practicing stage performances and demonstrations for the Thai Night Gala, an evening where the community can visit and learn about Thai culture.

Since the program’s inception, more than 300 students from Thailand and Upper St. Clair have participated, learning more about Asia and especially about Thailand. In addition, more than 450 students from USC have been involved as student ambassadors. But, Groves said, “Without host families, we cannot continue this valuable program which provides benefits to our younger generation and our community.”

The Handen family has hosted Thai exchange students for the past seven years. The first year they were a little nervous, wondering how they would communicate and if the students would like them. Now, they feel that in addition to their American son, they have 14 children from Thailand as part of their family.

The students were excited to be in America and appreciative of having a home while here, said the Handens. “Playing cards and cooking together helped us get to know each other. The exchange program keeps them so occupied that sometimes we feel that we do not get enough time with them. But most of the time is about creating a warm and nurturing environment so that the students have a place like home to retreat to after demanding days in all-English high school classes.”

The Handens said they treat their exchange students like their own children, with the same expectations and with the same understanding that they are teens. Hosting exchange students was a wonderful experience for their own son, giving him brothers and sisters, and expanding his understanding of the world. While the six weeks the students visit fly by, the relationship and fond feelings go on and on.

Even though the Handen’s son no longer lives at home, they still look forward to hosting the Thai exchange students.

This year, the Thai exchange visit runs from April 11-May 14. In addition to their stay in Upper St. Clair, from April 19-23 students will be making site visits to Lancaster, Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

The Thai-USA student exchange program is designed with special activities for Thai students to stay at school until 5 p.m. most days of the program. During the weekend, Thai students participate in field trips with USC student ambassadors, so it is not a heavy burden on host families to care for them. In addition, special arrangements can be made to accommodate scheduling conflicts with the host family. There is also some financial compensation for hosting the students.

According to Groves, host families do not need to have a high school student or children in the house. The qualifications to be a host family are a kind, understanding heart, an interest in other cultures and customs, and a private room for two-to-three Thai exchange students.

To learn more about being a host family or to apply to be a host family, contact Luck Kosoladolkitt Groves at 412-221-4816 or interfacemgmtintl@comcast.net.

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