TRAVERSE CITY — Jennifer and Kevin Ott gained a new member of their family two years ago when they decided to open their home to an international exchange student.
The Traverse City residents still refer to the high school student from Thailand as their daughter, even though she only spent two semesters in their home.
"She just fit seamlessly into our family," Jennifer Ott said.
The Otts signed up to host an exchange student for the past two years through the Council for Educational Travel USA, a nonprofit organization that brings students from across the globe to study at schools throughout the United States.
Deborah Crandell, CETUSA coordinator for Grand Traverse County, is looking for host families within a 50-mile radius of Traverse City to open their homes for the coming school year. Students will attend public or charter schools within that area, she said.
"Last year between our five-county region we had about 70 students working with over 20 different schools," Crandell said.
Families can sign up to host up to two students for one or two semesters, and "welcome families" also are needed to house some students for the first six weeks of the school year.
"Right now I am really searching for those families," Crandell said. "Students are waiting to get their visas and they can't do that until they have a family here in the U.S."
Crandell said families of all kinds are welcome to apply, whether they are former host families, retirees, empty-nesters, couples or singles with or without children. Families provide a bed, meals and some transportation to and from school activities.
Jennifer Ott said she's glad she went out on a limb and volunteered to host when she did. Her son was 10 at the time, and Ott said he learned a lot from his older "sister."