Hosting foreign students is discovering new family


“Do you have Facebook?” was a popular question flying through the air on Friday at Pilgrim High School, when students there had the opportunity to meet and greet their counterparts from across the globe.

Twenty-six students from 14 different countries and dozens of Pilgrim students convened in the school’s cafeteria to enjoy pizza strips, doughboys and clam cakes. The 26 students visited Warwick for four days, spending Thursday through Sunday with Pilgrim host families.

Kerslie Aristy, a senior at Pilgrim, hosted Ching Yee “Jinny” Lin, from Hong Kong.

“We’ve never hosted a foreign exchange student before,” said Aristy. “Last year all my friends did it, and my mom and I wanted to, and we had the space, so we did it. It’s been really cool. It’s like having a little sister.”

On Friday night, Aristy planned to have other foreign exchange students over to her house to watch the movie “Mean Girls.”

Lin said school in the U.S. is very different from Hong Kong.

“We wear a school uniform, and school is really stressful,” she said. “Here there is more freedom, and people are big on sports.”

The 26 visiting students attend school full time in other parts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Lin is attending school on Cape Cod this year, but said she enjoyed meeting the Warwick students.

“It’s so much fun to meet so many different people,” she said. “I just keep shaking everyone’s hand.”

A group of Pilgrim students armed with cell phones surrounded Astrid Ramussen and Karoline Parker, two juniors from Denmark. The teens were busy exchanging cell phone numbers.

Stephanie Hawkins, a senior at Pilgrim, instantly clicked with Ramussen and Parker.

“They’re awesome,” she said. “They’re like us, only from Denmark.”

Ramussen said it was fun meeting the Pilgrim kids, and interesting to experience a snapshot of their high school lives.

“It’s really different here,” she said. “In Denmark, the teachers move from class to class, and the students stay.”

Ramussen, who met Parker during her time at Pilgrim, said it was nice to see a fellow citizen of Denmark.

“I haven’t seen any Danish people since I left in September,” Ramussen said.

Parker was busy putting cell phone numbers into her phone. When the Pilgrim students asked what she thought of them, she blew them a kiss and smiled.

“They’re beyond awesome,” she said.

The Pilgrim students said meeting people from other countries inspired them to travel, too.

“If I go to Denmark, I’m going to look you guys up,” said Hawkins.

In addition to the 26 visitors, two other students, one from Iceland and one from Colombia, are spending the entire school year at Pilgrim.

All of the exchange students are part of the American Field Studies (AFS) program, an international non-profit that operates in 50 different countries. Pilgrim Spanish teacher, Heidi Bennett, suggested that the school create an AFS club several years ago.

“In 1976 I was an AFS student to Argentina,” said Bennett. “It changed my life.”

Last week’s gathering was the third of its kind at Pilgrim.

“We’re the only high school in Rhode Island with an AFS club,” she said.

Some of the Pilgrim students that are a part of the AFS club plan to travel abroad as well, and this summer Bennett will be taking five students to Panama to do community service.

Students interested in participating in the AFS exchange program, and families interested in hosting students should contact Bennett, who acts as a liaison for the organization.

For families who have never hosted a student before, Bennett said it doesn’t require much.

“The child doesn’t need its own bedroom, just a bed,” she said. “Families have to open their homes and their hearts. The students come over with their own spending money and a working knowledge of English.”

Over the years Bennett and her family have hosted 11 exchange students. Bennett recalled her positive experience as a teen exchange student, and said it’s nice to be on the other side of the program today.

“I’m giving back now,” she said.

To find out more about the American Field Studies program, visit To host a student, or to learn about studying abroad, contact Heidi Bennett in Pilgrim’s foreign language department at 734-3273 ext. 125.


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