People-to-People Exchange: Petal families hosts to exchange students from across the globe


The Wigley family of Petal has seen the country through new eyes, thanks to Yujiro Kisu, an exchange student they are hosting from Japan. Kisu has been a part of the family since the start of the school year in August and will remain until the end of the semester. Kisu’s year abroad is made possible through Cultural Homestay International, a non-profit educational organization which promotes international understanding and goodwill through people-to-people exchanges. 

“Our family has enjoyed watching this young man experience all of the traditions and customs we take for granted as Americans,” said Shawn Wigley, a retired English teacher and a host parent. “We have seen our country through new eyes. We have also laughed, smiled and rejoiced at a wedding and Christmas. We also shared loss at the funeral of an aunt we cherished.”

The Wigleys – Shawn, Johnny, J.P and Carley – are a first-time host family for CHI. Shawn said her son, a ninth-grader, asked if they could host an exchange student like one of his friends.

“I told him I would think about it,” Shawn said.  

The next day she received a call from April Young, academic administrator of the Mississippi CHI, and a meeting was set up to look through several applications she had pulled per the Wigleys’ particular requests. 

Shawn said as she went through the applications, she asked lots of questions. “And April had an answer for everything,” she said.

A home inspection was done and informational material passed along.

As a family, the Wigleys chose the 16-year-old boy who wants to become a doctor, loves to play the piano, and wants to improve his English speaking ability.

“Yuyu,” as he’s referred to by the Wigleys and his friends, started as a sophomore at Petal High School in August.

“The Petal Health Clinic was ready to receive our student for a sports physical and acceptance of his health records from Japan,” Shawn said. “The school was most accommodating with assigning a counselor to set up the classes he would need to fulfill the requirements of his school back home.”

Since being at PHS, Kisu has made all A's and one B, (Hamlet), qualified for South State with the school’s swim team, and starts competition season with the district archery team this month. Shawn said Kisu loves to study, observe nature and was fascinated with the forensic science class during first semester. 

CHI places high school students ages 15-18 with a host family for either a semester (5 months) or a full school year program, which is 10 months. Host families don’t need any type of certification to host, but there is a background check and they cannot receive any government assistance to be eligible to host. 

CHI currently has nine students placed across the state with three of them in Petal.  

Young said she supports both the students and families through the entire program with the help of an academic coordinator.



Young explained that each student and host family is assigned an academic coordinator. She is currently coordinating for two students at Petal, but any student or host family can contact her at any time.

“I have three who work for me, plus I can also take on that,” she said. “I had a student Facebook message me, because she missed her ride home and her coordinator was in Hattiesburg. I went and picked her up and took her home.   

She said phone reports on both the student and the family are done once a month. “I make it a priority to speak with every host family and student at least once a month just to say hello,” said Young. “That way they feel they have extra support and another means of help if they can’t reach their coordinator immediately. I pride myself that our team is very involved with our students and families. We meet up and go shopping and out to eat and fellowship often.”

According to Young, families hosting high school students should:

• Be able to provide for an additional member of the family including a separate bed, suitable study area and three meals per day.

• Offer a supportive environment as the student goes through his or her adjustment process.

• Be interested in teenagers/international students and have realistic expectations of what life with a teenager is like. Help student adapt to your family and to U.S. life and culture.

• Familiarize your student with your hometown and promote participation in school and community events.

• Provide a safe and secure environment for the student to live and learn.

CHI, which has been in existence for almost 40 years, has placed more than 300,000 students and young adults from more than 130 countries in U.S. homes. They also work with American students seeking cultural experiences abroad.

For the Wigleys the program has been a blessing.

“I believe we have learned just as much as Yujiro has during his visit,” Wigley said. “I would highly recommend our experience to anyone willing to open their homes and hearts to this exchange student program.”

Those interested in taking part in the exchange student program can contact April Young  at CHI, 601-467-4665,