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Exchange program places foreign students in South Dakota

February 24, 2018

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Melissa Erlenbusch has children all over the world.

That’s because she and her husband, Larry, have hosted two foreign exchange students every school year since 2014, the year Melissa began her journey with the nonprofit Forte International Exchange Association.

“We hosted two (students) that year, and we’ve had two every year since,” said Erlenbusch, a local Forte representative. “We always have a German. I’m half German and my husband is full German.”

There are nine exchange students placed through Forte at Central High School this year, Aberdeen American News reported . Both Clark and Eureka high schools have six Forte students, Erlenbusch said.

But foreign exchange numbers are dipping nationally.

According to the U.S. Department of State, there will be about 8,000 fewer students traveling to the U.S. for the 2018-19 school year than there are for the current year, said Heidi Naasz-Morlock, of Eureka, regional development director for Forte.

Part of that is because students are choosing to go to other countries, Erlenbusch said.

Furthermore, since the President Trump administration took over, there has been a decline in students being allowed to come to the U.S. through the exchange program, Naasz-Morlock said.

Forte’s goal is to bring culture to the area and teach others more about acceptance and diversity, Erlenbusch said.

Patricia Mack, 16, of Germany, is one of the Erlenbuschs’ students this year. Patricia is a junior at Central High School.

“I just watched movies and (saw) American high school. I just wanted to do that, too,” Patricia said.

Turns out the movies aren’t completely accurate about what high school life is like in the U.S.

“No, not really, but kind of yes, kind of no,” Patricia said.

School, for example, isn’t as cliquey as in the movies in which cheerleaders and football players sit together at lunch, she said. But it is similar in that American kids can choose “fun” classes that they most like. That’s what she did with her first block: a cappella and band.

The six months Patricia has been in the U.S. have been long, but good, she said. She arrived just in time for the Brown County Fair in August, which was the perfect spot to meet new people.

Patricia has a sister in Germany, and sometimes it’s hard to be so far away from her family, she said. But she talks to them weekly while enjoying her time in South Dakota.

International students exchange with a J-1 student visa. While in the U.S., they have to follow all laws and cannot date, drive or get a D grade or lower in any class.

When students apply with an international exchange agency, they must be between 15 and 18 years old and have good grades, health insurance and families who can financially support their stay. Host families are strictly volunteers, Erlenbusch said, though they must provide meals.

As is, Forte supervisors must be in monthly contact with exchange students, their parents and the school, said Keri Kline, an area director from Clark. She hosts two students.

Schools have restrictions on how many foreign exchange students they can accept at once. The cap is 12 at Central, Erlenbusch said. Most smaller schools allow just one or two, she said, though there are exceptions.

Naasz-Morlock said exchange students offer cultural diversity to sparsely populated rural South Dakota.

Kline said it’s sometimes easier to place students in smaller towns where they have a greater opportunity to play sports or get involved in other ways.

Naasz-Morlock placed Erlenbusch’s first two students in 2014 before recruiting her as a local representative.

Both hosting and placing exchange students is rewarding, Erlenbusch said.

“May is the hardest time of year because we say bye to all of these students we’ve placed and the ones that live with me,” she said.

But she and her husband already have two students selected for the next school year.

That means her newest team member, Rob Williams of Aberdeen, has earned his first two placements, she said.

Williams was recently hired as a local representative. On Jan. 1, Erlenbusch and Kline were promoted to their roles of area director when Naasz-Morlock was promoted to regional development director.

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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