Bringing European flair to Alabama

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ever wanted to visit another country, but didn’t have the time or money?

Ever wanted to interact with another culture?

Ever wished you could expose your children to ways of life other than the good ole American approach?

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Well, Student Travel Schools is providing local families with the opportunity to do just that.

In order to give exchange students a taste of Southern living, STS is inviting Black Belt families to open their homes to a high school exchange student for the 2006-2007 school year.

“The students do better in smaller cities where the teachers have the opportunity to get to know them rather than in cities where schools are crowded,” Brian MarGrave, program coordinator said. “The students have a great time every time we do the program.”

This year, STS has four exchange students, all from different places, who want to spend a brief moment in the south.

Diandra Porwit is a charming young lady from Germany who is an accomplished tennis player and enjoys volleyball and swimming as well. She likes to cook for her friends and family and has spectacular English. Diandra is in the top of her class at school and is passionate about dancing.

She loves to listen to music, go to the cinema, and play soccer.

Marie Joly is a 16-year-old girl from France who has had seven years of English and five years of Spanish.

She loves the theatre, plays and drama and she enjoys playing tennis and soccer. Marie also enjoys skiing, swimming and cycling.

She would love to share the French culture with Alabama families and prepare traditional French cuisine.

She adores children and comes from a tight-knit family. Marie knows that America is a very diverse country and wants to see American life through an American family because she has heard great things about life in the south.

Clemence Laudren is a 17-year-old girl from France who has been playing tennis for seven years.

She also plays basketball, loves horseback riding, snowboarding and loves to go camping. Clemence is crazy about animals, especially horses and is happy to work with, ride and care for them.

She says she hopes one day to live in a place surrounded by animals on a farm or ranch and is confident, light hearted and ready for anything.

Christopher Busher is a funny, bright young man from Germany.

He is studying American politics and computers.

He loves to play hockey and also enjoys photography, playing cards, reading, skiing, snowboarding, soccer/football, swimming, theatre, volleyball, and windsurfing. He is very mature but has a fantastic sense of humor.

Christopher maintains a 3.0 GPA while also being very involved with his family activities and sports.

He has also volunteered for the German Red Cross at a youth camp every summer.

“They want to experience first hand how it really is in the south,” he said. “All they know is what they’ve seen on television and in the movies and more times than not, it’s nothing like how it’s portrayed. This is a way to get rid of the preconceived notions and allow the students to go back home with a whole new perspective.”

According to MarGrave, who has hosted an exchange student of his own, the program is a fun way for families to learn about cultures around the world without leaving home.

“If you are interested in traveling this is a good way to learn about the places you’ve never been. It’s a real eye-opening experience for everybody that’s involved,” he said. “Any responsible person can take in an exchange student. Empty nesters who have all grown children, single parents, and couples with or without kids.”

Students will bring their own spending money for all monetary needs, such as clothes, outings, school activities, movies and so on and they will have their own health insurance.

For families who are nervous about language barriers, MarGrave says all students have been interviewed and have taken oral and written exams in English.

“They are all well-spoken in English and polite,” MarGrave said. “They have to have outstanding grades just to be in the program.”

As for families who think they don’t have time for an extra family member, MarGrave said the students will be independent and will not “hang on to your belt loop.”

“They will not be a guest. They will do everything your kids do from going to school to doing chores,” MarGrave said about the exchange students. “They won’t be strictly dependent on you and clinging on to your side and they will make their own friends. They just want to be taken in for the family, not entertainment, and they want to see America through your eyes.”

The student will be matched with a family according to likes, dislikes and other preferences. Host families will simply provide meals, a comfortable, nurturing and safe environment, a separate bed and a quiet place to study, MarGrave said.

“A local representative will provide unparalleled support for your family, the student and school throughout the school year,” he added. “We just want families that will be willing to really bond and mesh with the student.”

If you would like to host a student please contact Brian MarGrave at 1-800-522-4678 or by e-mail at

Prospective families may also apply online and view student details at For more extensive program information go to