Grove City Record

Chinese student exchange program needs host families

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The Hefei Cross-Cultural Education Exchange program has been bringing students from China to central Ohio for the past three years.

This summer, 163 students are coming for two-day visits and need host families.

The program is sponsored by Columbus Sister Cities International and the Hefei Education Bureau.

"The exchange is through the (Columbus) sister-city program," said Ba Lin, an Ohio State University economics professor who is from Hefei, China. "Without it, they never would have even thought about Columbus (for the program)."

Students visit the United States in June, July and August and stay with host families in Columbus, Los Angeles and New York City.

"We want to differentiate what Columbus has to offer," Lin said. "We take them to (Ohio State), Columbus State, Capital University. We go to museums and take them on a barbecue at Alum Creek. We try to show them around."

Gail Rigelhaupt of New Albany has hosted two children the past three summers.

"You meet people from other countries and learn about them," Rigelhaupt said. "You act as emissaries of America. It's fun, especially if you have children."

Rigelhaupt's 16-year-old daughter, Ava, is from China, but she was adopted as a baby so she doesn't speak Chinese.

Rigelhaupt said language isn't a barrier with the exchange students.

"You don't have to have any knowledge of Chinese," she said. "We've taken a few classes but most of them speak good English."

Lin said most students are polite and have above average communication skills.

Lin said students from Hefei have stayed in New Albany, Westerville, Powell and Lewis Center.

He said it can be challenging in the summer to find families willing to host exchange students.

"In the summer, it's a big challenge, obviously, because families have the summer off," Lin said.

He said program participants often form lasting relationships and several Ohio families have traveled to China to visit their exchange students.

In the future, he said, he'd like to start an exchange program for Ohio students to stay with host families in Hefei.

Rigelhaupt said it's been good for her daughter to meet the students and learn from them.

"The (New Albany-Plain Local School District) wants to make these kids global citizens," she said. "When they grow up, they'll probably be doing business with people in China."

The first group of 25 middle school students from Hefei will arrive in Columbus June 29. The next groups arrive July 26, July 28, Aug. 3 and Aug. 15.

Host families are required to pick up the students at a designated place and plan simple activities the next full day. The following morning, host families take them to the Best Western hotel at Polaris, where their teachers stay.

For information about hosting exchange students, contact Lin at lba@yahoo.com.

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