Valerie Virag, regional director for the American Cultural Exchange Service (ACES), would love to see more local students apply for special scholarships to study abroad.
ACES, according to Virag, is one of several programs that administers the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program.
The program, funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, provides merit-based scholarships to U.S. high school students and recent graduates interested in learning less-commonly studied foreign languages in summer, semester and academic year international immersion programs. The languages offered include Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian and Turkish.
Leo, from Brazil, who attended Clay High School, with
Val Virag and her grandson Tyler Virag, and Whadzna,
from the Philippine Islands, who attended Eastwood
High School enjoying a trip to Sweitzers Pumpkin
patch in Oregon.
ACES administers the programs in China and Turkey.
“The Turkey and China scholarships are 100 percent paid in full,” Virag said. “The student just needs to pay for a passport and immunizations. It is a wonderful program and I just want to get the word out so hopefully more students apply.”
According to Virag, students with an interest in foreign language and who would like to live and study abroad should apply in October for the summer program.
“The scholarships are open to students from across the U.S.,” she said. “Those applying will be interviewed by phone and then in person. Students who are picked will go to Washington, D.C., where they are taught how to live in a foreign country and what to expect.”
Students who are picked will go to the foreign country with a college-aged chaperone who has already been to that country and who can speak the language.
“This really is a great program that will help students appreciate our own country and our customs,” Virag said. “Foreign exchange programs will help students down the road, especially those who graduate from college and are looking for a job. You would be surprised at the number of job offers that are received by students who have studied abroad.”
An Oregon resident, Virag is also hoping to find more host families for foreign exchange students from abroad.
“We struggle to find host families every year,” Virag said. “Families need to be able to afford to feed an extra mouth and be able to provide a student with his or her own bed.”
Virag has hosted 12 exchange students over the years. She said the best part of being the host family is being able to share this part of the country with the student.
The next best thing is being able to share things like bank drive thru lanes, American-style grocery stores and common, everyday items like the washer and dryer.
“It really is neat seeing things through their eyes,” Virag explained. “We had students from the Philippines who just loved the washer and dryer because they did not have them in their country. They were amazed at how fast clothes dried in the dryer. We also had a student from Tokyo who had never seen stars before. There is nothing like sharing their first time seeing something.”
Virag said ACES also wants families who have a love of and interest in this community. “What we also want is a family that is involved in the community and who will show the exchange student everything they can about this area of our country,” Virag said. “It does not have to cost money either. We have a lot of great parks and the museum that the students really do enjoy. If you can provide a bed, three meals a day in a safe and nurturing environment, we would love it if you would be a host family.”
The families, students and schools who host foreign exchange students also have a lot to gain as well.
“The students who come here are pretty proficient in English,” Virag said. “They learn so much from each other. The students around here do not get a lot of cultural diversity, so they get to learn about other countries and cultures from the exchange students. The exchange students love coming here and they love all of the extracurricular activities we have in our schools like sports, drama club and theater. It really is a great experience for everyone involved.”
ACES offers many different exchange programs from six weeks, through one year programs. For more information on programs, becoming a host family, or for scholarship programs, visit http://www.exploretheworld.org.