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W.Va. opens heart to exchange students

by Gail Marsh


(June 26) Jerry and Galen Gilmore said the most difficult thing about hosting a foreign exchange student was saying good-bye.

On Thursday, the Mill Creek couple put Eduardo Ricken on a plane back to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, following his six-month stay.

He lived with the Gilmores and attended Tygarts Valley High School during the second half of the school year.

"It was a good experience and we had a great relationship with him. He was like a member of the family," Jerry Gilmore said.

The Gilmores are one of many families from throughout the area who commit to host a student from a foreign country during all or part of the school year. Linda Daugherty, area representative for the International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES) said the organization is always looking for host families.

"West Virginia is one of the states that places more kids in host homes than anywhere in the United States. People are very willing here to open their hearts and homes," she said.

ICES brings students, ages 15-18, to live in America for five-month or 10-month stays. At this time, ICES has students willing to come here from Germany, Russia, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, Mongolia, Finland, Brazil, Ecuador, Latvia, Spain, Slovakia and other former Soviet Union countries.

"It's a serious commitment, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences a family can have," Daugherty said.

After hosting a Slovakian student last year, Jean and Guy Fenstermacher of Belington opened their home again this year to host Tanja Thumm from Germany. Thumm attended Philip Barbour High School for the year and excelled in sports.

"She left June 9 and we miss her already. Her family will be in the states in July, so we're looking forward to visiting with all of them," Jean Fenstermacher said.

Fenstermacher said hosting a student has been good for their daughter, Laura, 17, who attended school with Thumm.

"Laura learned a lot about giving and sharing by having another teenager in the house," she said.

Tammy Swiger was recently appointed the area representative for Marion and Harrison counties. Swiger lives in Bridgeport with her husband, David, and their 4-year-old son, Travis.

"I have four students to place right now and will have possibly one or two more. I look forward to meeting them and helping them get settled in," she said.

The four students are from Brazil, Mexico and China. All are proficient in English and are fully covered with health insurance.

They bring their own spending money, so host families provide room and board only, Swiger said.

For more information on the program or on becoming a host family, people can contact Swiger at 842-1152 or the ICES office in Belington at 1-800-981-6801.