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Illinois Exchange Students Head Home

(CBS) -- Hundreds of suitcases fill the parking lot outside Elmhurst College as 500 international students board buses to the airport to go back home.

"It's sad. I feel horrible. It hasn't hit me hit that I'll be home tomorrow," said 18-year-old Gustavo Lopez from Brazil.

Lopez spent the last year living with a host family in Skokie and attended Niles West High School.


"I hope I remember how to speak Portuguese when I get home. This has been the best year of my life. I feel like a totally different person. I'm so glad I did this," Lopez said.

Eva Crawford with the American Field Service program says the international exchange changes lives.

"They come here nervous, their English is ok," Crawford said. "When they leave, they have a maturity that is so different and so profound. They are more sure of themselves. They have built these incredible relationships with their host families and their English is just exceptional."

Fikri Rechman is from Indonesia. Rechman stayed with a host family in Newark, Illinois, a small town in Kendall County.

Fikri Rechman is from Indonesia. (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

"I come from a pretty big town back home and this only had 185 kids at the high school so it was small town but I loved it and everyone knew me," he said.

Crawford says they are always looking for volunteers to serve as host families. They are matched with exchange students based on certain criteria.

"When they apply to come here, they talk about what interests them most and host families who are interested in hosting can look for people with similar interest to their families and make the best match possible," said Crawford.

Gustavo Lopez from Brazil. (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

AFS exchanges 13,000 students in between 50 different countries and it hosts 2300 students from the United States alone.

AFS Intercultural Programs/USA is a worldwide, nonprofit organization that has been leading international high school student exchange for 60 years. AFS was founded in 1947 by volunteer ambulance drivers from World Wars I and II who believed the way to build a more just and peaceful world begins when people from different countries meet, learn about each other, and begin to understand each other.

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