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Chinese exchange students find temporary home in SCV

Education First will provide 16 students with an opportunity to study American culture in the SCV

Posted: August 8, 2009 8:58 p.m.
Updated: August 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The Santa Clarita Valley is providing 16 exchange students from China the chance to learn about the many facets of American culture.

Through Education First, a not-for-profit organization that provides families the chance to open their homes to foreign exchange students, local residents are giving kids from all over the world a chance to learn.

In 2005, Wendy Hidalgo, of Canyon Country, joined the program as host. She now serves as program leader and helps with the English-as-a-second-language classes.

“The goal is for the kids to see the culture and change their perspective. Many of the kids only know America from what they see in the movies and on television,” she said.

“We go to places like Disneyland, the California Science Center and Venice Beach.”

Sixteen Chinese students between the ages of 12 and 13 are now in the Santa Clarita Valley as part of a three-week tour of California.  

Many different countries have been represented in Santa Clarita in the five years the program has existed in the area. A group from Sweden recently spent time in the SCV.

Pat Willett, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District, is a local host family.

“Every day they have class and study tours but they do have some free time. We are taking our kids camping at the beach next weekend. Also, we are taking them to the Ventura Country fair and to a rodeo to see some American culture,” she said.

Willett hosted foreign exchange students long before Education First was established in the Santa Clarita Valley. She keeps in frequent contact with many of her exchange students.

“One of the kids I hosted lives in Santa Clarita now and I’ve had him longer then his own family,” she said. “I feel like I have a son and have gained two grandchildren.”

The host’s duties include providing room and board for the students, but they aren’t required to plan extra-curricular activities for the kids.

Nikki Beck, a resident of Canyon Country and current program leader, has enjoyed the relationships she’s forged through the process.

“I started as a host in Bakersfield and fell in love with the program. I’ve been hosting for six years now and I’m on my fifteenth student,” Beck said.

For more information about the program or how to become involved, contact Beck or Hidalgo at (800) 336-5782.



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