Student exchange program looking for host families on the South Plains

Published: May. 17, 2023 at 10:46 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Share! Southwest, a student exchange program, is looking for families on the South Plains to host its next group of students.

The organization is a nonprofit, authorized by the U.S. State Department to match families with students from all over the world.

For one Lubbock woman, Olga Pahom, becoming a foreign exchange student changed her entire life.

“Originally when I came, I thought it would just be for a year. I thought I would maybe make some friends, but I never dreamed they would turn into the kind of close friendships we have to this day,” Pahom said.

Pahom first made her way to the Hub City as a high schooler in 2001. On the plane ride over, the foreign exchange student from Moldova learned the Huddles would become her host parents.

“It’s always been fun because you get to take them to places that they’ve never been, and sometimes we hadn’t been. We went to a lot of Balloon Fiestas in Albuquerque,” Steve Huddle said.

Steve and Sharla have hosted six students through the years, making them chicken fried steak and taking them to see places like the Carlsbad Caverns.

“In fact, all of ours, they learned to drink iced tea and went home and taught their families to drink iced tea,” Sharla said.

Leigh Morgan, a coordinator for Share! Southwest alongside her husband, says the program needs more families to show students that same West Texas hospitality.

“You’re just giving them that opportunity to just be part of your family. They’re not a guest, they are there to help with chores, and all those fun things. But just really learn the American culture,” Morgan said.

Across several states, Share! hopes to place about 150 students for the upcoming school year. In and around Lubbock, it’s hoping for 20 families to take on the adventure.

“They get the opportunity to participate in sports, they get the opportunity to participate in electives. Because most of them don’t have those electives,” Morgan said. “I have some students in FFA and welding that are just loving it and they would have never had that opportunity back home.”

For some foreign exchange students, those opportunities can turn into so much more than a one-time experience.

The Huddles helped gather the money for Pahom to return to the United States to complete her undergraduate degree at Lubbock Christian University. She eventually became a professor, first at Texas Tech University, and then returned to teach at her alma mater, where she is now.

Pahom also met her husband while in Lubbock. Steve performed the marriage for the couple and baptized them both. Pahom’s son, Stephen, now carries on her host dad’s name.

“The biggest lesson is just to be willing to learn from someone that’s different from you, and I think it will lead to transformation and even to lifelong friendships like it has for me,” Pahom said.

Through Share! Southwest, families can host students ages 15 to 18 from all over the world for one semester or the full academic year. Host families get to choose their exchange students based on their likes and interests. All students must be placed by Aug. 31.

Hosts can be single-person households, or married couples, and must be older than 25. They have to pass a criminal background check and go through an interview process.

Exchange students come to the United States with insurance and spending money, but hosts must provide meals. While they can share a room, Morgan says students need their own bed and a space to study. All students come with a knowledge of the English language.

The program is only for hosting students here in the United States, not sending American students overseas.

For more information on becoming a host, go to the Share! Southwest website or contact Morgan at (800) 941-3738 or (806) 654-1044.