• Photo gallery: Exchange students enjoy Hawaii
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
Ginny Squier of Kona has opened her doors to the world.
As a volunteer host parent to high school foreign exchange students, Squier has welcomed into her home teens from Siberia, Turkmenistan, Germany, Australia and Lebanon. This year Squier is hosting Zakya Mekkioui, 16, of Morocco, a junior at Konawaena High School.
"I just feel that it's exciting knowing people from all over the world," said Squier, 65, a retired administrator for a nonprofit organization and former public school counselor.
Squier is among dozens of local families who host high school foreign exchange students with the Center for Cultural Interchange, or CCI, a Chicago-based nonprofit international exchange organization that promotes cultural understanding, environmental consciousness and world peace. Such exchange programs offer myriad opportunities to high school students and host families alike.
Each year CCI seeks about 50 volunteer host families statewide for international students in its academic year program. This year's students from Russia, Yemen, Jordan, France, Mexico and other countries are attending local high schools including Castle, Mililani, Kapolei, Wai'anae and Le Jardin Academy.
"I think we are truly living in a global society, and if we want to prepare ourselves as adults and our children to live in an increasingly smaller world, this is a way of bringing the world to your doorstep," said Barbara Bancel, a CCI national consultant based in Honolulu.
Host families are not paid for participating in the program. Interested families have to consider whether they can make the kind of commitment required: They're responsible for providing exchange students with their own beds and meals, as well as parental guidance and involvement in family activities.
Other basic criteria include a willingness to devote themselves to a cross-cultural experience, expose their family to other customs, share American cultural values and "include someone who comes from a different cultural background in their day-to-day lifestyle," said Bancel, who is also CCI's regional director for Hawai'i and Alaska.
Often people who want to host not only desire to expand their world, but also "develop flexibility and adaptability for themselves and their family members, and these lifelong friendships," Bancel said.
Families can select the country and gender of their potential host students, who go through a careful selection process, Bancel noted.
"They have a great deal to say about who is coming into their home," Bancel said. "We try to match some similar interests and then we try to provide both the training and the ongoing support to help everyone involved."
Meanwhile, Squier, who is widowed and doesn't have any children, said Zakya has "fully, 100 percent" become a part of her family.
"It's pretty cool," said Zakya, who will be in Hawai'i until June. "I moved from six family members (in Morocco) to two family members. ... She's my mom, sister, dad and brother."
Zakya is taking full advantage of the opportunity, taking her studies seriously and participating in extracurricular activities, including paddling and basketball. And she's just as active at home.
"The purpose of this program is for them to see how we live," Squier said. "We don't just play all day at the beach."
Zakya's household chores include washing the car, sweeping out the garage and cleaning the house.
"That's just part of being in this family; we work hard and play hard," Squier said.
During her downtime, Zakya hangs out with newfound friends or spends time with Squier, going to the beach, sightseeing around the island or scrapbooking.
"I just love being here, meeting other people, having to experience new cultures and enjoying the stay in Hawai'i," Zakya said.
Squier is enjoying the learning experience as much as Zakya.
"I just feel that my life is so rich," Squier said.