ALPENA - The Lutes family of Alpena will become a host family for the first time this month through an international student exchange program, American Scandinavian Student Exchange. The program has qualified the family to host Diana, a 15-year-old student from Russia, for a year while she attends classes at Alpena High School beginning this fall.
"This organization is relatively new to Alpena, but we're working hard to find places for students to visit. A lot of students want to spend time in America," Lori Vought, local ASSE area representative, said.
According to Vought, host families can open their homes for any amount of time, but a year is typically most desirable.
"Some students come for a summer or even a semester; any time works. Most exchange students are adventurous, and are looking for new experiences and to spend time in America," Vought said. "You don't have to be rich or travel extensively to be a host family. We're looking for families who are ready to open their homes in a safe and fun environment for students from all different countries."
According to Vought, ASSE was founded by the Swedish government in 1976, to provide student exchanges between the United States and Sweden. However, the program has expanded in size to provide thousands of students, ages 15 to 18, to host families in 59 countries throughout the world.
"This is our first time doing something like this. We talked about it before, but timing wasn't right," Steve Lutes said. "We have an empty nest right now, at first I thought it would be wonderful, but I really miss parenting."
After the Lutes' daughters left their home, Steve and his wife Lana decided it would be a good opportunity to give and learn more about a foreign country while welcoming someone to America and Alpena for the first time.
"I think this will be a great experience to learn about another culture. It's nice to do something completely unselfish and to open our home," Lana Lutes said.
Steve Lutes expects hosting Diana will go well and hopes to be a host family for many more years and to keep in contact with host students.
"For the most part our friends and family have been really supportive and excited about it. I can't wait, she'll arrive Aug. 24 and will fly into the Alpena airport," Steve Lutes said.
The Luteses and Diana have been exchanging emails and contacting through Facebook, but the family said they chose to host her after reading her biography and letter that showed more of her personality and interests.
"It was so hard to pick someone, but we chose someone with similar interests. She really likes to camp and she's interested in drama, museums, science fiction writing and movies," Lana Lutes said.
Vought said the organization and representatives try to match host families and students with similar hobbies and interests in a tailored way, so students will fit seamlessly into their family.
The Luteses are planning to take Diana to the theatre, a renaissance festival, museums, on nature walks, camping, Besser Bell, Norway Ridge, Island Park, and on a glass-bottom boat tour while she spends a year in Alpena and attends Alpena High School.
"We're not sure of her language proficiency yet, but she will be taking English, government, history, math and science. She will be assessed and take the right academic courses at AHS," Vought said.
She said host families can choose where they would like to host a student from and for how long, and each student will come with an expense fund meaning host families are expected to only provide food and shelter.
"The entire process is pretty fast. It only took a couple of weeks for the Lutes family. We run background checks and references in order to provide a safe host. It's a great application process," Vought said. "I think this really helps Alpena and our community. In general, Alpena students will learn about different cultures too."
For more information about hosting an exchange student, contact Lori Vought at 464-1509 or at 340-0265.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687.