Community pride is a lot like love—it’s affection for the place we live—and like love, it’s best when shared with others. Through Academic Year in America (AYA), central Montanans have the opportunity to share the love of their communities with students from around the globe.

“AYA host families have a great opportunity to act as citizen diplomats,” explains Katrina Reese, one of two AYA coordinators in Montana. “They teach foreign exchange students about American traditions and values.”

AYA is sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1967 with the assistance of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Over fifty countries participate in the program, but until recently, there was only one Montana AYA coordinator, located in Hamilton. Coordinators may only place students as far as 120 miles from their hometown. Reese’s involvement in the program now affords central Montana the opportunity to share its culture with foreign students.

“I always wanted to host a student when I was younger,” says Reese. “This is a really cool way to work with the kids now.”

Reese looks at student profiles to determine which might fit well in central Montana. (For instance, if a student hates snow, they probably wouldn’t have a good experience here.) All AYA foreign exchange students have three years of English (minimum) and are under strict guidelines to participate in the program. They’re here to learn what life in America is about,
all the while exposing us to their culture.

“One foreign exchange student can teach hundreds of students in Montana about their culture just by interacting with them,” says Reese, who in 2019 placed three AYA students in Fergus High School. “It’s a great program for the schools, the students, and the communities.”

For more information, visit academicyear.org or call (406) 350-2392.