Wanted: Wisconsin families willing to share their lives with a teenager from another country, perhaps from a very different culture.

“It’s not how we’re different that is important. It’s when you learn that we’re the same,” said Dick Schultz of Fort Atkinson, a coordinator for the Aspect Foundation student exchange program.

“People who host are people who are willing to learn more about the world and are interested in the differences,” said Holly Dowe of Beaver Dam, a volunteer with the AFS student exchange program.

AFS hopes to place about 90 high-school students with Wisconsin families in this area. Aspect will host about a dozen teens, three of them Muslims. Students will arrive in August for the school year.

If it sounds daunting to welcome a stranger with new dietary requirements and different prayer habits, host mother Cheryl Daniels of Madison can offer reassurance based on hosting five exchange students, plus three children of her own. . .

When the Daniels family hosted a Muslim boy from Indonesia a few years ago, they set aside a prayer area at home and helped him determine the direction toward Mecca. East High School provided a room for noon prayers and he arranged his schedule to go to the Islamic Center of Madison for Friday prayers.

At home, it was easy to add some chicken brats to the menu, Daniels said, and “we just made sure he could observe the dietary part” of his religion.

Exchange programs offer resources, as do organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Non-Muslim families may fear a student will be harassed, Schultz said, but that hasn’t been a problem. “What they deal with is a lot of curiosity,” he said

The Muslim students arriving through his program are participating in the competitive Youth Exchange and Study Program sponsored by the U.S. State Department.


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