Valley Economy Affects Foreign Exchange Programs

Fresno, CA Inter-Ed usually finds as many as 50 Valley families to host students from Germany. This year, because of the struggling economy, they only got 28 -- and three of those families have dropped out for financial hardships.

15-year-old Kim from Germany wants to spend the next school year in the Central Valley, but the struggling Valley economy temporarily left her the foreign exchange student version of homeless.

Both parents who planned to host her lost their jobs and dropped out of the program. "They not only have to deal with not being able to bring their student over that they counted on, but also they don't have a job and they don't have the income and they have to think about themselves first," said Inter-Ed marketing director Cheryl Gomes Williams. But in stepped the Vieiras.

The Tulare family read about the struggling student exchange program and volunteered to host. Now, they're going through a speedy application process and trying to get a crash course in German culture. "It's all happened so fast that basically what I know is that I drive a Volkswagen," said new host mother Mandy Vieira.

The cost of hosting an exchange student is a little less than that of having your own kid. The Germans come with their own medical, dental and vision insurance. Host families have to cover the cost of meals and keeping a roof over the students' heads. That's a burden some families can no longer carry, but the Vieiras only see the positives. "We think it's a 2-way street where we're going to gain as much as she does," said new host father Kevin Vieira. "So, we're pretty excited about it."

When Kim comes to Tulare from her home near Munich, Germany, she'll get a quick lesson on Central Valley, but more about the nearby dairies than the jobless rate in Mendota. And she'll find a lot of common ground with her host sister, Madalyn. "Her and Madalyn are a lot alike," said Mandy Vieira. "They have a lot of similarities." "Same sports, same talents," said 10-year-old Madalyn. "I think it's going to be an awesome experience to have another person just a little bit older than me in the house."

Inter-Ed still has two more students whose host families backed out.

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