Hingham is looking for families to host exchange students from Italy and Spain who will be visiting the South Shore this summer.
The students, age 14-18, will be in Hingham from July 15 to Aug. 6 for cultural exploration, and Tracey McKay Blake, with the Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI), is encouraging residents to participate.
“The three-week program is more for families that want to get a taste of hosting,” Blake said. “A lot of them decided to come back year after year. The three years I’ve had this program in Hingham, I’ve had some of the same families.”
From single parents and empty nesters to working parents and retired residents, Blake said the experience is extremely rewarding, something she herself knows from years of exchange experience.
“Growing up, my mother always had [foreign] coaches and counselors from the YMCA come and live with us in the summer. I grew up in North Attleboro, and it wasn’t common then to have exchange students,” Blake said.
When she grew up and had children herself, she hired a German au pair. Pretty soon, her own kids were asking to host an exchange student, and Blake has had cultural students in and out of her home ever since.
“Every night at the dinner table, you never knew who was going to be there. And we loved it. It’s just part of our lives now. Especially since I have kids in college, next year I’m thinking maybe I’ll have students just to take their empty bedrooms,” she said.
Approximately 30 students from Italy and Spain visit the South Shore with CCI. In the morning, students take English classes with a Spanish teacher from Hingham High School, and then go on excursions throughout the state – and even country – for the remainder of the day.
According to Blake, host families often feel they have to be event planners for the students, but the reality is they just need some place to live and hang out.
“What people don’t realize is these kids are gone from 9 a.m. till 6 at night,” she said. “People have this preconceived notion that they have to do something 24 hours a day, but that’s not the case. If you have a deck, the students like to sit out there and just chat with friends.
"They just want to chill, go to the beach, make s’mores in the fire pit in your backyard. So it’s not a lot, and we’re always looking for host families.”
CCI isn’t only for summer programs either – the program, based out of Chicago, also runs full-year and half-year programs for students. In addition, adults looking to volunteer in different parts of the world can apply for an exchange through the program.
The organization is just now starting an exchange program for English-speaking students wishing to go abroad. According to Blake, there are six openings for any high school student who wants to live with a host family in Leon, Spain, for three weeks.
For all the people involved, Blake said the experience is rewarding, and the feedback continually positive.
“You meet a lot of people,” Blake said. “The families get together in the summer and also meet different people in the town, people they otherwise would never have met."
Families interested in partaking in the exchange program need to fill out an application and also submit to a background check. Applicants should contact Blake at 781-749-7418 or e-mail her at Kblake418@aol.com.