By REBECCA SCHWAB
OBSERVER Staff Writer
The Kaminskis may never be empty-nesters.
Judy, Mike Kaminski, Thome, Jennifer and Don at the airport.
And that's all right with them. For the past 10 years, Don and Judy Kaminski have been hosting international exchange students, in addition to raising their own three children.
"We love it," says Don. "We started doing it through the Dunkirk Rotary. Now it's through the EF Foundation for Foreign Study. Judy is their district manager."
According to their website, the Boston-based EF Foundation is a "nonprofit committed to promoting global awareness for over 30 years () bringing more international students to the United States than any other program of its kind."
The EF Foundation started in 1979 and places about 3,000 students each year with host families. But the demand for host families always exceeds the supply. More host families like the Kaminskis are needed for international students who want the experience of living in the U.S. and learning about American culture.
Selina Peverelli is the Kaminskis' current "other kid," and the Kaminskis' seventh exchange student. Along with the Kaminskis' daughter Jennifer Miller, Peverelli attends Dunkirk High School, where she is enjoying her new friends and being a member of the track team.
"There are so many wonderful new things here," she says. "I love meeting new people. My host family and all of the people at school have been great. They're all unique, and Dunkirk with its diversity has so many characters to offer. I love exploring everything new and living a completely different lifestyle."
For Peverelli, the hardest thing to get used to in Dunkirk was that there is no mass public transit like there is back home in Switzerland.
"I learned very quickly that here, if you don't have a car, you can't get around on your own," she says.
And the Kaminskis favorite thing about having international students stay with them?
"Not their cooking!" Judy jokes. "Selina is learning to cook, though. She's a vegetarian. She's learning how not to burn things. Seriously, though, we love having them."
Don agrees. "It's fun to compare cultures," he says. "It's fun to see their faces each time they experience something new."
"Seeing them learn things is great," Judy says. "Selina, her English is really improving. We joke around about pronunciations."
In fact, the language barrier is the most difficult part of being a host family.
"It's hard to communicate sometimes," Judy explains. "It's frustrating for them, especially when they know what they want to say and it isn't translating to something we can understand."
But no obstacle has been too great for the Kaminskis. Two of their exchange students ended up staying longer than they were scheduled to, because they didn't want to leave the welcoming and warm home the Kaminskis provided for them. And the Kaminskis stay in contact with all of their kids, even offering open invitations to stay at their house any time the students want to return to the U.S. for a visit.
"They don't just miss us, though," Judy says. "They miss their friends here, and of course, the fast food! They can't get everything here in their own countries. For one of them, it was Oreos. We sent a ton of Oreo packages home with her."
One of their past exchange students, Thome Rosa, is coming "home" this summer to the Kaminskis for a month to visit. He wants to make a preseason game between the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings. Judy recalls how popular he was, and that there were over 100 people at his going away party the night before he went back to Brazil.
"And they were back in the morning to hug him goodbye one more time!" she adds.
Rosa has nothing but good memories of the time he spent in Dunkirk.
"I could get along with almost everyone in the school, in the city, other exchange students, friends and family of my host family," he remembers. "To be in Dunkirk from 2007 to 2008 was one of the most pleasurable things I did in my life."
Of course, all of the exchange students miss their countries, their families and their friends. But they get caught up in their lives here, make new friends, and become so busy that there isn't much time for homesickness. And once they do return to their home countries, there's a bit of homesickness for Dunkirk.
"I couldn't believe the school system," Rosa says. "When I got to the U.S. I was amazed that I had the choice to pick subjects I liked (...) I never thought I could do robotics in high school. And when I learned that the teachers had their own rooms (with things dedicated to their subjects) I freaked out. I thought that never would work, I never would find the classes, but after two months I was already wishing that Brazil had the same system."
Rosa also misses the opportunity to play so many sports. In Brazil, even at the high school level, sports are so competitive that only a small number of students get to play. There aren't many sports to pick from, either, and schools don't have many resources to dedicate to them.
"When I arrived in DHS, I could not believe that there was a track, two football fields, three baseball parks, a swimming pool and a good gym in a school of a city with 10k people. All that stuff was only in a dream of a school in Brazil," he says.
Selina agrees that there are so many things here in Dunkirk that she will miss.
"My family here welcomed me with open arms. And thanks to the people's openness I quickly made friends," she says.
The Kaminskis have just as hard a time letting each one go. Saying goodbye to them is truly the hardest part of the whole experience.
"It's like having to give up one of your own kids," Don says.
The Kaminskis draw all of their exchange students into their family circle, sharing their home and their hearts and yes, their American junk food. The students aren't "guests," they're just more kids to feed and love and keep track of.
"At first it was like having houseguests," Jennifer says of sharing her parents' home. "But then it became just like having more brothers and sisters."
The Kaminskis treat all of the kids like their kids, taking it all in stride. The same house rules do apply, though the Kaminskis haven't had difficulties with the students' behavior.
"We've been really lucky not to have had a lot of discipline problems," Don says. "We just have good kids. But if anything did arise, we would treat it just like we would for one of our own. We're pretty laid-back, though, and not much ruffles our feathers."
The Kaminskis are helping to coordinate visits from two more students in August, one from Norway and one from Switzerland. If the Kaminskis can't find other homes for them, the students will stay with them.
The EF foundation has requirements for potential host families, and they pride themselves on keeping close track of the students they place, doing all they can to provide safe and happy homes for the students where they can truly experience the warmth and excitement of American culture.
"Host families are definitely needed," Judy says. "(The EF Foundation) is looking to place over 2,000 students in New York State alone. And it's a great experience, both for the student and the host families."
To find out more about the EF Foundation and becoming a host family, visit www.effoundation.org or call 1-800-447-4273.
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