Morgantown residents Paula and John Halulko first took an exchange student in to their home in 2007. That student, a Ukrainian boy named Andrew, soon became like another son for the Halulkos, who had two boys of their own plus a third who was born during Andrew’s year-long stay with the family. Andrew even held his newborn ‘brother’, Nathan, when he was brought into this world on March 20, 2008 at the Chester County Hospital.
To this day, nearly five years after the end of their hosting, the Halulko family still keeps in touch with Andrew. That relationship has had such a positive effect on Paula personally that she chose to become a representative for the non-profit organization ASSE - which finds host homes and schools for exchange students.
“(ASSE has) kids from all over the world, from 15 to 18 years old. Some kids come for one semester and some just for the summer, but most are full school year exchanges (10 months). We also send American kids to other countries on exchanges,” Halulko explained.
She also maintains contact with students and families for the duration of the exchange once a pairing is made between the two.
“Throughout the year I serve as a moderator and help with any problems that they may have,” she said. “These kids really want to be here in America, and they come from all over the world and are of all different faiths and backgrounds.”
According to Halulko, each ASSE student is fully insured, brings his or her own personal spending money, and is expected to handle his or her share of household responsibilities. She added that students involved in the exchange program are required to be proficient in English.
“We have kids who prefer to go to private school and many who wish to go to public school. We currently have three kids who are very interested in being placed in High Point Baptist Academy: a boy and a girl from China, and a boy from Spain. We just have to find families to take them in for the year.”
Host families do not have to pay to participate in the ASSE exchange program, and are not paid for hosting an exchange student. The host family chiefly provides shelter and food, and of course, normal family activities to partake in. There are a small number of things which the students are not allowed to do – such as hold jobs or drive.
“The students have the responsibilities of any other family member, such as doing chores and schoolwork,” Halulko said.
The idea of taking an exchange student into one’s home is daunting, Halulko admitted, but that feeling is experienced by both the student and the host family – and it is the first of many things that they soon discover that they have in common. Some families become very involved and host time and time again, such as a family she works with in West Chester which has hosted 20 exchange students.
“At first there are some awkward times because of cultural differences, but overall is a great experience for both the student and the family. We have many families who travel abroad and visit with students they used to host,” Halulko said.
Since there are so many students who wish to come to America, a host family has the ability to find a student which would match well with their lifestyle. Host families typically host one child, and can even host multiple students if they fit the ASSE hosting criteria.
“(Initially) it seems like it is tough to take a chance like this,” John recalled of when the family chose to host Andrew. “Everyone seems to have that ‘hang up’ when they are thinking about hosting an exchange student, but once you do it you look back and think ‘that really was not that big of a deal’.”
Once a host family has chosen a student they can immediately begin corresponding with that student through email and other means.
“That is great because it allows for the family and the student to begin building a relationship immediately,” said Halulko.
Ideally a student would arrive before the first day of the school year, but it is not required.
“Getting involved earlier makes the process easier,” said Halulko. “There is more than enough time if you act now.”
Last September, the Halulkos once again opened up their home to an exchange student, sixteen-year-old Ji Su, a girl from the Republic of Korea, who is enrolled as a sophomore at Conestoga Christian School. She said she really enjoys her schooling, especially math and getting to play basketball. Some of the differences she really likes between Conestoga Christian School and her school in Seoul are having a shorter school day and not having to wear school uniforms.
At home, Ji Su said she loves getting to cook with Paula. Preparing Korean cuisine has been one of their favorite things to do together, and they even took a trip to an Asian grocery in Philadelphia to get authentic ingredients for Korean meals.
“They even bought a rice cooker,” she noted with a laugh.
Other experiences she fondly recalls from her time in America to date are bowling, going in-line skating, and taking a trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. She also has a sweet tooth, and remarked on how much she likes American candy.
“She fits in well with our family,” said John. “Getting the opportunity to show her what life in America is like has been a lot of fun, from things as simple as eating cheeseburgers together to visiting an aquarium where she sees things that she has never seen before. Sharing our cultures with one another – there’s no other experience like that.”
Ji Su said that her favorite thing about America is not the candy or the shorter school days, but the Halulkos and how they have made her a part of their family.
“You may be shy at first,” she said, “but it is a lot of fun if you give it a chance.”
“It has been so awesome having Ji Su as a part of our family, it is nice having a girl in the house to be a big sister for our sons. She has taught me a lot and we have all done memorable things together,” said Halulko.
To find out more about how you can host an exchange student contact Paula Halulko at email@example.com or 610-804-4273.
ASSE International is a nonprofit 501.c.3 educational and cultural exchange organization headquartered in Laguna Beach, California. Visit ASSE online at host.asse.com.