Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Over the last five years, Ayusa, a non-profit organization and international exchange program, has placed 13 students in Macon County. Donna Bell, the local Ayusa contact has also placed students in Swain, Jackson, and Haywood counties and is need of new host families to continue the program locally.

“Over the past three years there have been several students that have returned to visit their host families, my family included,” said Bell. “My family has hosted five students over the past nine years. Our fifth student is coming back to Franklin in August for two weeks. This shows the lasting bonds that are created through hosting.”

Ayusa is a non-profit cultural exchange and study abroad organization for high school students interested in entering a foreign exchange program. Bell helps match host families with foreign exchange students. According to Bell, there is no definition of what it takes to be a host family.

“It cannot be said enough – there is no ‘typical’ Ayusa host family,” said Bell. “Ayusa students enjoy living on farms, in small towns, suburbs, and big cities. Whether you are a married couple with children at home, a single parent, an empty-nester, or a grandparent, the desire to love and care for a student is all that is needed to host. Every community offers a wonderful and unique opportunity for friendship and learning. Somewhere in the world there is a student waiting to live with a family just like yours.”

Host family requirements

Host families or friends can provide a ride or students can use public transportation. A professionally trained Community Representative (CR) will be assigned to work with each family and student for the entire program. The CR will maintain regular contact with each student monthly, offering advice and support whenever needed. The CR will also maintain regular contact with each local high school and complete a quarterly report, evaluating the student’s progress in family life, academic achievement, and social activity. The CR is supported by a team of dedicated regional and national Ayusa staff, available 24 hours in case of an emergency.

Each student comes with health insurance that will cover any expenses should they require a visit to the doctor. Before a student is accepted into the Ayusa program, they must undergo a complete physical exam and submit a certified report documenting that they are in good health.

During each student’s stay with a family, Ayusa is the acting parent. This means volunteers can make decisions on their behalf such as signing school papers and taking the student to the doctor, if needed. Should a medical emergency arise, hosts have all the necessary signed forms from the natural parents to ensure the student gets the medical attention needed while the local Ayusa Community Representative and other Ayusa staff are providing support and guidance along the way.

The financial responsibility is minimal and mainly consists of room and board for each student, which includes three meals a day. The student’s natural parents will pay for all travel costs, program fees and health insurance. They will also provide each student with a monthly spending allowance used for school expenses, social activities, clothing, and other essentials. A $50 per month tax deduction can be claimed for each month someone hosts.

How to become an Ayusa Host Family

Step 1: Indicate Your Interest

Fill out a short interest form to receive more information and get connected with a local Ayusa representative.

Step 2: Complete Your Application

An Ayusa representative will help you complete the application and answer any questions about the hosting experience. The representative can also connect you with other host families in your community.

Step 3: Choose Your Student

Once an application is approved, a Ayusa representative will work with host families to find a student to match your family’s interests and activities.

For questions, contact Donna Bell at (828)421-8843 or email at for a prompt response.