Educator promotes international student exchange in Owensboro
Owensboro Times, Owensboro, Kentucky, March 12, 2019
by Jessica Jones / author
Encouraging students to explore other cultures has been a constant theme in Lori Thurman’s social studies classes. However, this veteran teacher also enables students from different countries to visit the area as exchange students with her work as a field consultant for ICES.
“I’ve been impressed with the organization,” Thurman says. ICES, or International Cultural Exchange Services, is a non-profit agency whose main goal is to help students’ dreams come true. Her experiences with exchange students have been “positive experiences both for the kids and me.”
Thurman will be retiring in a few years after a career in the high school social studies classroom and found that helping exchange students and host families will enable her to stay connected to kids.
She said she first found out about this program through a posting online, then applied. As a part of the brief but intense training, she also had to train with the Department of State. Part of her job now requires her to maintain frequent contacts among the students, host family and the student’s family.
Students are “fascinated by the pop culture Kentucky references like Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Kentucky Derby,” and she even described one applicant’s desire to “see the bluegrass” when visiting the state.
A current applicant chose Kentucky because she is a cheerleader and is fascinated with University of Kentucky Cheerleading.
“Social media has seemed to help spark interest in Kentucky,” Thurman explained.
Another student was able to go to prom, excited to experience what is considered a normal rite of passage for high school juniors and seniors. The experiences that are “truly American and truly Owensboro” are the ones that they latch onto and take back, Thurman said.
Thurman currently has an exchange student from Taiwan in one of her classes at school, and said he “loves school, friends and the community — it’s a testament to how welcoming we are.” She said he enjoys our city, citing its safety as a plus, and has recently discovered a love for 80’s music.
According to the ICES website, “Students are required to submit complete application materials including current medical records, at least one teacher recommendation, official academic transcripts, English proficiency exam results, an essay, and a questionnaire. Most students are screened through a SKYPE video and audio interview to ensure a level of English proficiency that meets the majority of our high school’s enrollment criteria.”
For any family interested, the process is simple. The application is all digital and explores the careers, interests and concerns of the potential host family. It also requires personal references as well as clear expectations for behavior and even technology. Families will have a criminal background check done as well.
Thurman described the process as taking 15-20 minutes to complete. After the initial check, she will make a scheduled home visit to discuss any concerns with the family and take photos so that students can see where they will be living. She later makes a surprise visit before the student arrives, then meets at least once a month to make sure all is well.
Tisha Quinn, the Owensboro Field Manager for ICES, enjoys hosting students in her own home also.
“I currently house students from Mongolia and Taiwan,” she said, encouraging other families to apply, saying “If people sign up now, when they get their students in August they will have had time to get to know them and build a relationship.”