Foreign exchange students find temporary home, forever family through program

Most days, April Bray has eight children living under her roof. And while six of them are biological – and permanent – the other two stay for a time and then move out as two new children take their place.

Bray’s family is a host family for Ayusa International, a nonprofit foreign exchange student program between the U.S. and more than 70 other countries. Each year, the Bray family opens their hearts and home to high school students from across the globe. In addition to being a foreign exchange student host, Bray is the regional manager for the southwest division of Ayusa.

The students from Ayusa live here and attend high school in Katy ISD. They perfect their English and absorb American culture. They bring a piece of their homeland to their new family and open them to a different way of life. When the student returns to their country, they bring their experiences home with them and share them with their own culture.


The exchange students are a diverse collection of nationalities, religions and economic backgrounds, but they all share a common goal- to come to the U.S. to experience the American Dream.

In the Ayusa program, teenagers live with a host family for five to 10 months. The host family opens their home to the student and provides free room and board. The students bring their own money for clothing and other necessities, but food, boarding and utilities are provided at no charge by the host family.

The students have their own health insurance but are not allowed to have a job or drive a car due to their visa status.

“The host family has to provide three meals a day. They have to provide a bed- they can share a room with a sibling – and treat the student as a member of the family, not a guest,” Bray explained. “But you give them chores, make them have family time with you- things like that.”

Ideally the students become a member of the family with whom they will have an enduring relationship. “I brag about (my exchange student, Lena) like a mother,” said host mother Anne Seppa. “Lena is no longer a ‘foreign exchange student’ but a member of our family. It feels natural to call her my daughter.”

It’s a competitive program for the exchange students to get into. According to Bray, Ayusa has a 3 percent acceptance rate. “I’ve heard it’s harder to get into our program than it is to get into Harvard,” she said. “These kids really want to get into this program.”

Elvira Muratovic will be a first-time host mother for an exchange student this year when the program reopens. Muratovic grew up in Bosnia, and European countries exchange students much more frequently than the U.S.

For Muratovic, the decision to host an exchange student was based on the benefit to her family to have a foreign student living in their home.

Muratovic has three sons, and her family will be hosting a teenage boy from Germany. “I can’t take my children all over the world, but I can bring the world to them,” she said. “The best way to expose your child to culture and languages is to bring somebody into your home for a few months and have your child learn from them.”