Fostering Cross Cultural Connections

Local coordination Beth Crisci pushes for more host families in Huntley


Courtesy of Beth Crisci

Foreign exchange-students attending Prom 2022.

By Ally Panzloff

In the small, suburban village of Huntley, many people consider their hometown mundane, or lackluster. What they may not know is that thousands of students from across the globe are hoping for a rare and unique opportunity; the chance to be a foreign exchange student at Huntley High School, through the Greenheart Exchange

Beth Crisci is the local coordinator for Greenheart Exchange, where she helps manage students in the McHenry County area. She herself has taken in dozens of kids from countries such as France, Italy, and Argentina. Crisci plays an integral role in running  Huntley’s local program. 

“I think having someone in your backyard is key for success and encouraging people to host,” Crisci said. “If a family wants to take a trip without the kid, I’m close enough that I can quickly arrange another place for the student to stay, or really help with a ton of other things that someone across the country may not be able to.”

The Greenheart Exchange, founded in 1985, is a foreign exchange program based in over 60 countries worldwide. With almost 12,000 host families, nearly 300,000 students from across the globe are able to experience a variety of new cultures and experiences, applying the mission statement, “creating global leaders and promoting cultural understanding,” to daily life. 

The USA is one of the most popular destinations for students from Italy, Spain, Greece, and Ukraine. Students come to America to sharpen their English skills, and experience a typical American high school through events like Prom and football games. Crisci has had past students take all the HHS fashion classes, join the Engineering Academy, and participate in soccer and cross country. 

“All my kids in the last couple years love ‘The Kissing Booth,’” Crisci said. “They think HHS is exactly like that movie.”

But unfortunately, fewer and fewer students have been able to realize this dream; in the last five years, only one or two of the five available slots have been taken due to a lack of willing host families. 

“We’ve lost some numbers since COVID-19,” Crisci said. “People that maybe would’ve continued hosting have stopped, and people looking to apply for the first time may feel overwhelmed by the process, but that’s where I help.” 

Thanks to modern technology, the process of choosing a foreign exchange student for hosting families has become increasingly efficient and accurate. Potential families are able to choose students based on country, fluency, age, gender, characteristics, and dozens of other categories. They can even read testimonials from students to better understand them. 

One thing that Crisci stresses is how any family can host. 

“We’ve had gay couples, a recently widowed mother, immigrant families, and so many other family situations,” Crisci said. “Hosting is open to pretty much any family that speaks English.”

Hosting benefits all parties; the visiting student, HHS students, and the host families. People are able to interact with people from different environments and hopefully learn new things.

“I came to America for two reasons; I love to travel, and I really want to have a 360 view of the world,” said foreign exchange student Vittoria Sgarbossa. “In Italy, we don’t get a great English education, and I want to be fluent,” 

If you’re interested in hosting, or think you might be in the future, reach out to Beth Crisci at [email protected] for more information.