International Student Hosting: Meet an ICES Coordinator

Philosophy: Share the love.

With back-to-school everything taking over the lives of moms with school-age kids everywhere, I wanted share a unique perspective with you guys.

I had the opportunity to meet and a collaborate with Jackie Willock, a local coordinator for International Cultural Exchange Services who lives and operates in Florida.

A Panama native and mother of two, Jackie is a mentor, role-model and lives by the motto, “Knowledge is power.”

The best way to get knowledge, of course, is hands-on and what better way to cultivate this power than to dive into the culture of another country?

In our conversation, Jackie mentioned how many adolescents in other countries have access to Netflix and dream of coming to the United States to experience what we (kids and adults alike) take for granted.

ICES provides the opportunity for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel here to experience American culture and education first-hand.

She was kind enough to share the information below. If you’d like to know more about this program or any of the other extensive topics in which Jackie works, drop her an email! (These topics range in everything from completing the college application process to information on our National Parks).

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES), is a non-profit organization, is authorized by the U.S. Department of State to match international high school students with host families in USA.

ICES provides host families a network of support, starting at the local level. Their trained Local Coordinators are available in all 50 states to help with any questions or concerns you and your family may have during the hosting experience. Jackie Willock specifically works with families and schools in Miami, Florida. Host families are given an orientation before their students’ arrival to ensure they understand all aspects of hosting.

What Does the Host Family Provide:
– Room (can be shared with another child of the same gender).- Meals eaten at home (The students pays for their own school lunches and restaurant meals.)- Nurturing home environment and parental supervision.

What Does the Student Bring:

– Their own spending money to pay for everything else (i.e. toiletries, entertainment, etc.).- Full medical insurance.

Who are the Students: International high school students from Latin America, South America, Europe, Asia & Africa are excited to become a part of your family. They participate in a pre-departure orientation as well as an arrival orientation, so they understand the rules and expectations of their program. ICES works with their partners overseas who do the pre-screening of students. The partners recruit only those students who they feel will be excellent candidates for the program. They continue the screening process to ensure they have a genuine interest in becoming an exchange student. Here are some of the things they screen for:
– Academics: A minimum of a “C” average in all courses taken over the past three years. Transcripts translated into English and a Teacher’s Recommendation.- English Language Skills: Students must demonstrate acceptable scores on the Standard Test for English Proficiency and be comfortable in using English conversationally to follow course work and socialize.
– Personality: A personal essay written by the student to describe their personality, hobbies and home life.
– Attitude: The ability to deal with the inevitable challenges of adapting to another culture and communicating in a foreign language.
– Intellectual Curiosity: An open mind toward learning the ins and outs of another culture, such as its social customs, as well as concrete experiences such as food and fun.

Benefits of Hosting: The student becomes a part of your family (you gain a new son/daughter, sister/brother), they participate in family activities and even do chores at home. You and your family learn a new language, customs and traditions of another country. Wouldn’t you love to have family around the World? It’s your chance to be GLOBAL while being a local! You also play an important role in promoting (in the evolving process) of a peaceful world by increasing international awareness and cultural understanding.

How Students Benefit from Being Hosted: Students around the world contemplate and dream about an exchange experience, they wonder what things will look like once they are actually living with an American family and going to school. The impact an exchange experience has on these student’s is profound and meaningful. Being a host family not only gives students a place to call home, it changes their view on Americans, their perspective on life; it gives them the gift of friendship and of “family”. As you change their lives, you change yours, cultural differences melt away and the rewards of hosting come with the realization that you made a difference.

Role of the Local Coordinator (LC): Finds families interested in hosting and works with them during the application process. They coordinate with the local public high school, near to where you live, to enroll the student, under the J-1 Student Visa Program.

Host families receive an orientation before their students’ arrival to ensure you understand all aspects of hosting. The information is also shared with the student upon their arrival, to ensure everyone understands all the rules.

The LC checks in with you, the student and the school at least once per month, to ensure all is running smoothly. The LC prepares a monthly report that is sent to DOS, which is also seen by the student’s natural parents. The LC plans activities and events with the students (optional participation of their host family) so that all the local host students (and optional for their host family) can meet and can bond. Should any concerns, issues or anything arise, your LC is your first contact to help resolve anything. They are available 7 days per week, during normal business hours. ICES has a toll free number for support after normal hours, which is available 24/7.

Who Can Be A Host Family: Host Families come in all shapes, colors and sizes (i.e., families with or without kids, single parents, a single person with no kids, empty nesters, same sex couples, etc.). All members living in the family:

– Must have a Social Security Number.
– Can not have a felony conviction.
– Can not have a DUI or a DWI conviction in the last 5 years.
– Can not receive income-based assistance for food or housing.
– Both host father and/or host mother must be at least 25 years old.

Steps to Apply to Host a Student:

1) Complete an Application Online: You will receive a link for you to log into our secured website, where you will create your own user id and password to start the application, by providing general info about your family (names, address, rules that you want the student to follow, etc.).

2) Complete a Background Check: The application includes a link to complete a background check for everyone living in your home, age 18 or older. We use security company OneSource that specializes in background checks. I don’t see the info you provide in the link, I only see a status of Pass or Fail. Below is the info you will provide for the background check:

– Name
– Current Address
– Social Security Number
– Date of Birth
– Phone Number
– Address
– Driver’s License Number and Issuing State.
– Annual Household Income

3) Provide Three References (List 2 Personal & 1 Business)

4) Home Visit: With your Local Coordinator an appointment is scheduled to visit your home. The LC only needs to see the areas the student will use. This is a Department of State (DOS) mandatory requirement, to ensure the student will be placed in a home that is safe and sanitary.

Selecting Your Student: Once everyone 18 or older living in your home has passed the background check, the Local Coordinator will email full student profiles to you of students that share the same interests as you and your family. It will include the student’s application, photos/videos, report cards, letter the student wrote to his/her potential Host Family, letter the natural parents wrote describing their child, etc. etc. etc. Once the application, background check, home visit is completed and you have selected your student, you and your student may begin to communicate to begin to bond. The LC requests the registration of the student into a regular public high school near to your home. Once the student is registered in the school, the travel arrangements (i.e. J-1 Student Visa and flight arrangements) are arranged.

Student’s Arrival to USA: Your Local Coordinator will go with you to the airport to greet the student. Within a period of 1-2 weeks after the student’s arrival, the LC provides an orientation to the student to reiterate the rules they received from their international agent before departing their native country.Feel free to call or email with any questions.

There is also a demand for high school students in the form of a subject program. This is where the USA high school student is the point of contact at the school for international students who attend the same school, so that the USA Global Ambassador can help them meet friends, show them where their classroom is, etc.

Also, to promote hosting among their classmates, so the teens can ask their parents if they can host. The ambassador also goes with people like me (Local Coordinator) to events, like fairs, Library, etc. to work a table or a booth to spread the word about hosting.

If you would like more information on hosting or the subject program, please feel free to reach out to Jackie! Her contact information is below.

Jackie Willock / Local Coordinator

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES)


My Facebook Page:  Be a Hero – Host an International Student

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions

Click here to meet our students! 

Click here to view Testimonials by Host Families

Click here to view Testimonials by Host Students

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