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Tuesday, Jan 29 2013 11:00 PM

SUSAN PENINGER: Understand French? You will, a bit better, by stepping up here

By The Bakersfield Californian

When I was in high school, foreign exchange students were common. Of course, in the 1960s, Bakersfield had only four schools and each had a name that identified its location in town. Even when Foothill High School was born and all directions on a compass were taken, the name still identified its location. But we all had foreign exchange students.

Fast-forward to 2013 and you find opportunities for Kern County families to host 15- to 17-year-old French students who come to our area for short-term stays in order to improve their English, see the sights and learn firsthand about American culture.

Horizons du Monde, a French nonprofit, arranges home stays to and from the United States for students. While short-term stays often seem too short, there is still much to enjoy when sharing your home with someone eager to live with an American family, not to mention the invaluable opportunity this becomes to broaden the global perspective of your family.

Our culture is the envy of teenagers who can get to the Eiffel Tower by way of the metro. Go figure. But it is true. They dream about experiencing the American way of life. However, the dreams they dream can only be fulfilled when they have a place to stay once they arrive.

As a local coordinator, it is my responsibility to locate host families for visiting students. Groups of students travel to various states from Europe during their school breaks typically in February and April for 10 days; during the summer, groups stay in the U.S. about three weeks. Some arrive as groups of classmates while others meet for the first time at an airport for travel to the U.S.

Horizons also has a program for independent students who travel alone, land in Bakersfield and stay for three to six weeks to improve their English. Families that host independents, unlike short-term host families, receive a stipend.

All students speak English; many speak Spanish as well as other languages. Student groups are always eager to visit New York, Texas and Florida, but just as many want to see California. Even when we see our Golden State struggling, the students see her as the spectacular place she is and they want to take it all in.

When a group wants to see Los Angeles, they are placed in Lancaster, Tehachapi or Bakersfield homes then travel as a coordinator-led group to Los Angeles, Santa Monica and/or Hollywood. Some groups put Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, UCLA or USC, or the Getty on their must-see list and we accommodate.

When not traveling to Los Angeles, the groups participate in planned activities in their host community and when in Bakersfield, for example, they tour KGET, bowl games at Westchester Bowl after a fish-and-chips lunch from Mossman's, visit Pioneer Village, La Costa Mariscos, Stockdale High School for a day, and the mall where they shop, shop and then shop some more.

The responsibility of the host family is to provide a bed, meals and transportation to and from activity locations. There are currently opportunities for hosting in Bakersfield and Tehachapi for a group stay Feb. 19-28. In addition, homes are needed for a second group that will be in Bakersfield April 27-May 6. Students are fully insured during their time in our country and in your home.

If your family is interested in hosting for Horizons du Monde, please contact me at 332-7147 or email smppi@bak.rr.com for more information. If you are interested in sending a teenager on a home stay to France, Austria, Italy, Germany, England, Ireland or Spain, there is information available at www.openworldtours.org, the website for Horizon's U.S. based nonprofit partner organization.

Susan Peninger of Bakersfield, a licensed private investigator since 1983, has worked part-time with exchange students for the past three years. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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