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German exchange student to stay with McGarry family

Oxford residents Thomas and Linda McGarry are opening their home to an exchange student. Photo by Andrew Moser. (click for larger version)
August 11, 2010 - Foreign exchange programs are nothing new to Oxford resident Linda McGarry.

She was a foreign exchange student to Germany through the Youth for Understanding (YFU) USA program in the late 1960's, and nearly 40 years later she is at it again.

This time, she and her husband Thomas will take the role as the host family and welcome Laura Zoerle, an exchange student from Germany into their home.

Zoerle will spend a year with the McGarry family starting in August and attend classes at Oxford High School. She will then head back to Germany towards the middle or end of June.

Laura Zoerle, an exchange student from Germany, is coming to Oxford. (click for larger version)
She will enter OHS as a sophomore, and will have to take American History and American Literature as part of the YFU program.

McGarry added that Zoerle would have the freedom to choose her classes and not be locked into the same requirements of a regular student at the high school.

"She is going to get a variety of experiences," explained Linda. "She is going to take some of the computer classes or some of the arts because those kinds of classes are generally not offered in their schools."

Linda added that the specialized classes are usually a little broader than what the exchange students get back at home.

This is not the first time that the McGarry family has taken in an exchange student. They took one from China two years ago and did it two previous times while they were living in Wisconsin.

"They had a real need and they asked if we would sign on again, and we did," Linda McGarry said. "Now we have our exchange student coming in two-and-a-half weeks."

She described the process of selecting a student as a gut instinct.

"It has just been kind of by feel of what you see and what you read about a student and what they are interested in, what their family situation is and kind of go by instinct," she explained.

Once they received the information on the available students, they made further inquires about Zoerle. Based on her Secondary Level English Proficiency test and other factors, the McGarrys knew she would be a good fit for them.

"In reading all of the documentation of her, it seemed like she would be a really good fit," Linda McGarry said. "She is into sports and wants to join the swim team and we know that the kids who play sports, it is a really great way for them to get into the culture of the high school."

The previous student they hosted also swam, so the McGarrys have firsthand knowledge on the impact sports can have on a transition into a new school.

"It is such a positive experience because the coach is great and the other girls are great and she went to school knowing 25, 30 girls," Linda said.

One area that Linda likes is the amount of support that the exchange students have once they arrive with their host family. YFU has a local level of support followed by a level of support for the entire southeast Michigan region.

"If the child is overly homesick, isn't fitting in well or just doesn't match with your family, there is a system to support the student and support the family so it is a successful experience for everybody," Linda said.

While Zoerle is staying with the McGarrys, she will participate in every activity they do.

"Whatever we do as a family, she will do; she is absolutely included. If we take a vacation, she will be going on vacation and if we visit family, she will go too," Linda said.

Even though Linda's children are all grown up, they still live in the area and take an active role in the life of the exchange student. They will pick the student up and take them to the movies or shopping whenever Linda in not able to.

She added that one of the hardest parts about taking on an exchange students is when they have to leave when their year is up.

The YFU does have a policy that only lets the exchange student stay for one school year before they have to go back. "They have a VISA that stops at a certain point just like anyone other person that has temporary residency in the United States," Linda said.

"It is hard, but yet it is almost like when your own kids go off to college...I think that your relationship is solidified enough to know that they are not going out of your life," she added.

However, due to modern technology, it is much easier to keep in touch with the students after they go home.

Linda said that the student from China calls and e-mails her a couple of times a week and one of exchange students the family had while in Wisconsin comes and visits once a year.

For both Linda and Thomas, hosting another exchange student means more chances to get involved in the school district.

"We didn't live here when our other kids went to high school, so we know our neighbors, but we are not assimilated into the school community," she said. "Since we lived here, we haven't really been to connected to that. Now that we have an exchange student, we can get back into that."

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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