WILTON — Western Maine now has local coordinators working to promote “public diplomacy” through the hosting of high school students from 45 countries. Wiltonites David Olson and Paula Widmer have been certified as coordinators by American Councils for International Education, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., which organizes and facilitates exchange programs funded by the U.S. Department of State.
Widmer and Olson seek and vet appropriate host families, who desire to welcome one or two 15- to 17-year-old teens into their homes for a school term. The couple then provides support and guidance to the host family throughout the guest student’s stay.
During the 2011 spring semester, the two hosted Farid from Kabul, Afghanistan, who attended Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. Their young guest, a Muslim, had earned the Youth Exchange and Studies (YES) scholarship through intensive testing and interviewing by American Councils staff in Kabul.
He was selected for his academic performance, his maturity and his ability to present himself as an ambassador of his country and culture, as well as his ease with adapting to a different culture.
Here for six months, Farid wowed everyone he interacted with in Franklin County. He left people with a more realistic and fleshed-out idea of the ordinary lives and ancient culture of the country.
Widmer and Olson decided they wanted to continue living on a more global scale and they applied to American Councils to become coordinators.
This fall they placed two students in their community for the 2011-2012 school term. Sonja Mitic of Novi Sad, Serbia, is staying with Anita Wright and attends Mt. Blue High School. Nayab Jamal of Nowshera, Pakistan lives with Jan Collins and Irving Faunce on a blueberry farm. She attends Gardiner Area High School where her host mom teaches.
Nayab has learned to love kayaking, and Sonja can be seen competing in cross-country track meets. Both girls welcome invitations to talk about their countries and cultures.
Widmer and Olson will offer casual informational gatherings in coming months for potential host families and to collect supporters. Welcoming households are invited to apply. For more information, call 645-9707, visit the new Western Maine American Councils blog at http://westernmaineac.wordpress.com or the American Councils website, www.americancouncils.org.