A recent photo of Alex Turcan, an exchange student from Moldova who stayed with OMP residents Tim and Maggie Quinn in 1994-1995, with Olave Russell. Alex is now an attorney and still close with the Quinns and their kids | Olave Russell Photo
A recent photo of Alex Turcan, an exchange student from Moldova who stayed with OMP residents Tim and Maggie Quinn in 1994-1995, with Olave Russell. Alex is now an attorney and still close with the Quinns and their kids | Olave Russell Photo
U-Cut Lavender at Brys Secret Garden on the Old Mission PeninsulaDonate to Help Support Old Mission Gazette

You’ve probably heard Olave Russell’s name over the years in connection with the student exchange program and/or when she used to write for the Preview Community Weekly way back when.

But while we were emailing back and forth about the student exchange program (more on that in a second), I learned that she also has deep roots to the Old Mission Peninsula.

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When she was a kid, Olave’s grandparents, Sam and Olave Walker, lived on Peninsula Drive below Franklin Woods. She says she “spent a lot of time on that hill, lying under a big pine, reading or watching traffic below.”

Sam was a CPA with Walker & Russell on the top floor of the old State Bank Building. Olave’s grandmother was active in the Garden Club, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the beautification of Traverse City. Olave recalls lots of flowers planted around the city, and there’s a good-sized rock overlooking the Boardman River sporting a dedication plaque with her grandmother’s name on it.

But Olave’s connection to the Old Mission Peninsula doesn’t stop there. During the summers of 1963 and 1964, she worked for Michigan Migrant Opportunity, Inc. on the Carroll Farm with a close high school friend.

“I loved the job,” she says. “It involved working with kids too young to go into the orchards – teaching basic English, cooking lunch with the help of a teen named Yolanda Cano Centeno, and entertaining the kids.”

She adds, “I learned a lot from those families and the kids, including how hard it was working in the orchards, and how important family life was for them.”

As mentioned above, Olave has also been very involved with the ASSE International Student Exchange program, and they’re currently seeking host families for the 2019-2020 school year in Northwest Michigan.

“ASSE has some really neat students who are hoping for a host family in Northwest Michigan, and time is going fast,” she says.

She adds that some schools, including TCAPS, have a mid-August cutoff for accepting an exchange student. A decision to host before that means you have time to start e-mailing or Skyping/FaceTiming to start getting to know each other. Other smaller schools in the area are a little more flexible.

Hosting a foreign exchange student in your home is a great way to learn more about another country, discover a new language, form a lifelong friendship, and even learn about your ancestral origins.

And, of course, you’ll also be giving an exceptional young person from another country the opportunity of a lifetime – to live with your family and experience the language, customs and culture of our country.

Exchange students from Arab Israel, Italy, Spain, Kyrghzstan and Ukraine at a Christmas party/group sleepover at Olave Russell's house in 2017; all the girls lived with host families on the OMP | Olave Russell Photo
Exchange students from Arab Israel, Italy, Spain, Kyrghzstan and Ukraine at a Christmas party/group sleepover at Olave Russell’s house in 2017; all the girls lived with host families on the OMP | Olave Russell Photo

Qualified host families may be single or married, with or without kids, or young-at-heart retirees. Hosts may choose their student based on shared interests (Boy Scouts, dance, music, sports, horses, volunteering, etc.) or on their ancestry, whether Polish, Latvian, German, Scandinavian or a number of other countries.

Olave has been involved with the program for more than three decades and still loves it.

“I’m starting my 33rd year as an ASSE area representative because of their standards and great kids,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot over the years – as a rep, a host mom for 24-plus students over 30 years, and as a support system for ‘my’ families.”

And the connections she’s made over the years are lifetime connections, she says.

“It’s opened a door to the world for me, for my own kids and their friends while growing up, and now my grandkids. I am still in touch with a number of students from my group or as a host mom, and have followed their success stories as they become doctors, educators, hotel managers or work in the tech field.”

Exchange students Valeria Stepanishcheva (from the Ukraine; stayed with an OMP host family) and Samara Melisbek (Kyrghzstan), volunteering with State Rep. Dan O'Neil (middle) | Olave Russell Photo
Exchange students Valeria Stepanishcheva (from the Ukraine; stayed with an OMP host family) and Samara Melisbek (Kyrghzstan), volunteering with State Rep. Dan O’Neil (middle) | Olave Russell Photo

Students from most European countries, plus FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) students from the former Soviet Union republics (including Estonia, Ukraine, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan), as well as YES (Youth Exchange and Study) students from countries with a predominantly Muslim population are looking for host families here in northern Michigan.

FLEX and YES students are on a scholarship program and have gone through several screening processes, in addition to heavy competition to be accepted. All must have a B or better GPA to be accepted.

Exchange students at a community event with Senator Wayne Schmidt (middle) and Olave Russell (right) | Olave Russell Photo
Exchange students at a community event with Senator Wayne Schmidt (middle) and Olave Russell (right) | Olave Russell Photo

Olave notes that all ASSE students have their own spending money for personal needs such as entertainment and clothes, good health/travel insurance, and a clear-cut set of rules to follow.

“These students are eager to be part of an American family, learning our customs and sharing theirs,” she says.

For more information, visit the ASSE website or call Olave Russell at (231) 947-2974.

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