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Hanford couple coordinating local exchange program

April, 8 2013

Although they have no children, Joshua and Amanda Marple will soon be having their hands full supervising five teens.

For the first time, the Marples are serving as the Hanford coordinators for the U.S. State Department’s WorldLink International Exchange programs. Under three possible programs, five students from countries including Moldova, Russia, Serbia and Bosnia will come to Hanford in August to live a year with their host families with the goal of developing better international relations. About 30 students in total will come to Kings County.

“We weren’t sure at first if we were ready for this,” Amanda Marple said. “It’s a lot of responsibility looking after these kids, and it’s especially nerve-wracking since we’ve never done anything like this before.”

As coordinators, the Marples have to pair the students with their host families, check in on them to make sure all rules are being followed and make reports to the State Department.

To prepare, the Marples became host parents themselves last year. For the past six months, 17-year-old Moldova native Lidia Petrovici has been living with them as part of the Future Leaders Exchange program, also known as FLEX, which is designed to help students from the former Soviet Union and bring peace to the two countries.

The Marples said they immediately caught on with Petrovici, who will be staying until June.

“It’s going to be sad when she leaves,” Amanda Marple said. “We didn’t expect to become so attached so quickly.”

Besides the FLEX program, foreign students can come to America through the American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange and the Youth Exchange and Studies Program. Both programs are similar, but are also different in that they serve students in different regions of the world. The students must go through a rigorous application process that features interviews, essays and a demonstration of their academic achievements.

Students who are selected receive a scholarship that pays for their living expenses, including travel, food and any health emergencies that may occur. The students also get $125 extra per month to use as spending money. In exchange, students must go to school and get good grades, do 100 community volunteer hours and submit online reports every month.

“I like being here a lot,” Petrovici said. “There’s a lot of diversity and many more cultures here than in Moldova. It’s been interesting to learn about all of the different cultures.”

Petrovici said the way school is conducted is also different from her experience in Moldova because there’s a closer relationship between students and teachers here.

“The teachers are less strict,” she said. “People seem less serious here than in Moldova.”

Although Petrovici’s enjoyed the experience, she said it’s been difficult for her to be so far away from her family for a long period of time.

“I have to divide my heart in a way,” she said. “My family and friends miss me, but I’m also having a lot of fun here. I like [Joshua and Amanda] a lot. They’ve become like a second family.”

The Marples said they’ve learned a lot through their experiences with Petrovici as well, such as learning words in Moldovan, Russian and Romanian as well as cooking foods from those countries.

“We’ve Americanized her for sure, but she’s also taught us a lot about her language and customs,” Amanda Marple said. “We’ve learned things that will probably stay with us the rest of our lives.”

Marple said even though Petrovici will be heading back to Moldova in June, she and her husband plan to keep in contact with her and visit her sometime. Petrovici said she would also like to return to California to go to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo after she graduates from high school.

The Marples are still looking for host families for this year’s incoming students. Eligible families must go through a background check and have character references. The families are required to provide three meals a day, transportation to and from school and other events as well as a bed to sleep on. Families can include single parents and couples with no children.

“It’s not a long or hard process to become a host family,” Joshua Marple said. “I think a lot of people want to do it, but don’t know how to do it.”

Although host families aren’t given money by the U.S. State Department, they are awarded a $50-per-month tax deduction that is considered a charitable donation.

“We want to find people that want to do it to help these students, not to profit from it,” Amanda Marple said. “We’re looking for people who are going to be active with these kids and be a good fit for them.”

 

April 03, 2013 1:00 pmBy Joseph Luiz

 

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