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Columbia County couple creates lasting relationships through exchange program

Posted: April 28, 2015 - 11:08pm
Judy and Peter Slavovsky are hosting Maite, a student from Spain, at their Martinez home. The exchange is part of a program known as PAX.  Todd Bennett/The Augusta Chronicle
Todd Bennett/The Augusta Chronicle
Judy and Peter Slavovsky are hosting Maite, a student from Spain, at their Martinez home. The exchange is part of a program known as PAX.

Judy and Peter Slavovsky’s home in Columbia County has all the usual signs of an empty nest: Their three children have grown and flown, the driveway is less crowded and television use is down considerably.

At 63, the Martinez couple still enjoy cooking for three and take turns providing math and history help on
high school homework assignments.

The Slavovskys, married 40 years, have lived in the Augusta area since 1987, and for nearly two decades have opened their home and hearts to foreign-exchange students from Russia, China, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy.

The Slavoskys are members of the Program of Academic Exchange. Better known as PAX, the New York-based nonprofit works withtheState Department to improve relations between the U.S. and other nations through high school foreign exchanges.

The Slavovskys encourage others to enroll to broaden their global perspective by building relationships with students who can offer insights into different languages, cultures and foods.

“I guess you could say we have an affinity for international students,” said Judy Slavovsky, who along with her husband is hosting Maite, a 16-year-old from Spain who is working toward a career in social work at Lakeside High School. “We like the world scene, and in essence, this is like inviting a country to live with you for a semester or an academic school year.”

PAX is seeking Richmond and Columbia county families willing to host students between the ages of 15 and 18 from Finland, Denmark, Spain, Germany and South Korea, said Leslie Tansey, the program community coordinator.

Tansey said the program is open to single parents, married couples, empty nesters and blended and nontraditional families. Each must go through reference and background checks.

Students are tested to make sure they have at least three years of English-speaking experience and each come to the U.S. with full medical insurance and financial support from their parents to pay for any extracurricular activities.

“All host families have to provide is a bed, study area and three meals a day,” Tansey said.

Maite said she started communicating with the Slavovskys last summer online through Skype and e-mail, but has been motivated to learn English since she was 5 to study in U.S. schools, which she has noticed place more emphasis on athletics, career advancement and the arts.

She spent two days in New York City for orientation before flying to Augusta.

Maite said her anxiety melted away after she met the Slavovskys at Augusta Regional Airport with a crowd of greeters and a welcome sign she still has today.

“At first, we were asked to be a welcome family for Maite for six weeks to enroll her in school and acclimate her to the U.S., but once we got to know her, we asked for her to stay the entire year,” said Judy Slavovsky.

Tansey said prospective students submit a profile and an essay about their likes and dislikes and goals for the program to make the best match possible.

That’s where Judy Slavovsky said she and her husband fell in love with Maite, who wrote about sharing strong family values with her family.

The three soon built a strong bond of their own, taking several cross-country trips together.

They visited Disney World in Florida and a wedding in Toronto for one of the Slavovskys’ former exchange students.

“It is important for whoever is opening their home, whether it is single parents or empty nesters, that they feather the student into their normal lifestyle,” Judy Slavovsky said. “We love to travel and are very social people. We treated her as if she’s one of our own.”

The Slavovskys were introduced to PAX nearly a decade ago and said they immediately knew it’d be a perfect fit for them, especially Peter, who was born in Brazil and had to learn English at age 12, when his family came to the U.S.

“My interest and intrigue in the program goes back to high school,” said Peter Slavovsky, whose father was born in Bulgaria and met his mother in her hometown of Vienna, Austria.

The Slavovskys first opened their home to a Russian exchange student about 18 years ago, when issues arose between the boy and his original host family. The next year they welcomed a Chinese girl, before taking a short break and joining PAX to house six students, including one each from Bulgaria, Germany and Italy, and two from Spain.

They said they hope to visit Maite, who wants to attend college in the U.S., at her home in Spain later this year after her family comes here in June to pick up their daughter and tour the East Coast.

Maite said she would recommend PAX to others.

“Being able to go to a new country, learn a new culture and meet new people has helped me grow as a person and feel more independent,” she said. “It might seem hard at first to leave your family and your home, but it is definitely worth it.”

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