Exchange program rewarding for students, families


When Mario Buckley returned to Brazil on July 7, the Hilton household in Ellicott City briefly lost its international presence. This presence has become the norm for the Hiltons, who have been hosts to American Field Service exchange students each year since 1995.

"Our youngest three kids have always had an exchange student in the house," said Mary Hilton, who serves as hosting coordinator for the AFS Greater Baltimore Chapter.

Things will return to normal for the Hiltons in the fall with the arrival of Alejandro Seghezzi from Argentina. Like Mario, Alejandro will spend a year as an exchange student at Mount Hebron High School, which has a particularly strong AFS club for exchange students.

Participating in the AFS club at Mount Hebron was one of many activities that helped to enrich Mario's experience living and studying abroad. As a member of Mount Hebron's soccer team, Mario helped the team win a state championship. Mario also served as a Student Government Association representative. The latter experience was significant to his plans for the future.

"This year has had a tremendous impact on my life," Mario said. "I've become more mature and more dedicated to helping my own country, perhaps as a diplomat."

Mario's maturation as an exchange student was most apparent in his scholastic improvement. In Brazil, Mario had underachieved academically, which was a source of concern for Mary and Bob Hilton at the start of the school year.

"Problems arise if the school work isn't done," Bob Hilton said.

The Hiltons were willing to overlook their concerns in large part because of the Buckley family's involvement in AFS in Brazil. The only child of an American father and a Brazilian mother, Mario had experienced AFS from the host family perspective. Benefiting from the combined guidance of his parents in Brazil and his American family, the Hiltons, Mario excelled and became an A student at Mount Hebron.

Beyond adjusting to student life in a new country, Mario and other exchange students must adapt to living with a new family. For Mario, this entailed making the transition from being an only child to becoming part of a family with five children.

"Being a part of the host family is vital," Mary Hilton said. "Unlike tourists, the host family experience helps exchange students gain a realistic view of America."

The reciprocal nature of the host family arrangement is among the greatest strengths of the AFS exchange program. While Mario and other exchange students experience an insider's view of life in the United States, host families such as the Hiltons gain a sense of connection to the world.

Through being hosts to students from Australia, Japan, Iceland, Norway, Canada and Brazil, the Hiltons have established friendships across the globe. The friendships have led to overseas visits for the Hiltons and, for the Hiltons' Japanese exchange student, summer employment through Mary Hilton at Towson University.

"We keep in touch regularly with all our students by e-mail," Mary Hilton said.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the AFS experience for the Hiltons has been the impact being hosts has had on their children. Fourteen-year-old Tim Hilton became enamored of Norwegian culture during the stay of the Hilton's Norwegian exchange student. This summer, Tim will attend a Norwegian-language camp in Minnesota for the second consecutive year. Tim also expects to spend a year as a high school exchange student in Norway.

Nationally, AFS will serve as host to more than 2,500 high school exchange students during the 2000-2001 academic year, including between 10 and 12 students in Howard County. Founded in 1947 by American Field Service volunteer ambulance drivers from World Wars I and II, AFS is dedicated to promoting peace among nations through international student exchanges. AFS also coordinates study-abroad programs for American high school students in 44 countries.

In early August, the 2000-2001 exchange students will arrive in the United States. The Bolster family of Elkridge will be the host of Henke Wredberg of Sweden, and the George family of Columbia will be the host of Marcela Nunes of Brazil. Henke and Marcela will attend Howard High School.

Host families are needed for the rest of the arriving exchange students. All AFS exchange students have spending money and medical coverage. Volunteer host families provide room, board, guidance and integration into the life of an American family.

"The experience of hosting should be a pleasure, not a burden," said Jenny Davis, the AFS Greater Baltimore Chapter coordinator.

The AFS Greater Baltimore Chapter is conducting a host family orientation July 29. Area families interested in learning more about having an exchange student are encouraged to attend.

Information: Jenny Davis, 410- 465-6028, or Mary Hilton, 410-461- 4969, or visit the AFS Greater Baltimore Chapter Web site at

Recognizing a star

Recent Howard High School graduate Larry Rutters was honored as Howard County's Bright Stars 2000 award recipient in the Maryland's Tomorrow Program, an anti-dropout program for students identified during middle school as "at-risk." In addition to achieving honor-roll status with a grade point average of 3.0 in 1999-2000, Larry was a member of Howard High School's football and baseball teams. After graduation, Larry began a plumbing apprenticeship and plans to attend a trade school.

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