A Litchfield Township teenager will take off for Europe later this summer, the first Sayre High School student to participate in the Sayre Rotary Club's rebooted youth exchange program.

Instead of entering into her junior year at the school this fall, Anna-Maria King will stay with host families and attend classes in Belgium. While she's gone, her family will host an incoming student from Brazil.

The Sayre Rotary recently re-started its exchange student program after the King family approached them, said Elizabeth Hibbard, the club's youth exchange officer.

The family has hosted exchange students in the past, said Anna-Maria's mother, Dolores King. The Kings took in their first student, a girl named Laura from Germany, in 2009 after her initial exchange plans fell through.

Upon receiving an email that Laura needed a place to stay, Dolores immediately jumped at the chance. One of the Kings' seven daughters had just left for college at the time. "We had a space for her," Dolores said. "So I figured, what's one more?"

The experience proved overwhelmingly positive for the King family, who learned from Laura how to embrace cultural differences. She quickly became a member of the family and has visited several times since her initial stay, Dolores said.

Laura "was so generous in wanting to be part of our family," Dolores said. "How her mother trusted me to take care of her daughter was really incredible to me."

After the first experience, the Kings hosted a student from Brazil for a year and allowed a girl from Spain, where one of their daughters lives, to stay with them for three weeks. She'll return next week for another stay, this time for a month.

Not only is it a great way for families and students to learn, but exchange student programs are "a diplomatic way to promote peace among countries," Dolores said.

Dolores said she began to pursue becoming a Rotary host family because the youth exchange program is well-respected and organized. At the same time, Anna began to develop an interest in becoming an exchange student herself.

Anna said she wanted to travel overseas to experience challenges beyond her schooling at Sayre and to learn more about herself. She also saw how the exchange students quickly became part of her own family and how much fun they had while abroad.

The Kings approached the Rotary last fall, and Hibbard jumped at the chance to take on the program's return. Her own family hosted several exchange students when she was younger, and her brother participated in the program, she said.

The application process is rigorous, starting with a long application. The club then interviews applicants at the district level before inviting them to participate.

"When I heard Anna-Maria wanted to apply, I volunteered myself to serve as the youth exchange officer," Hibbard said. "Anna-Maria impressed me, and I wanted to help give her this wonderful opportunity. I am really looking forward to helping both Anna-Maria and our inbound student."

Rotary members "could see that we were committed," Dolores said. "Anna-Maria is an excellent candidate for this to be a success."

Anna will leave in mid-August to stay with her first host family, living with three families for three months each before returning in June. At around the same time, the Brazilian student, a female, will arrive in the area to stay with the Kings. She has already made contact with people in the area and is getting a feel for the environment, the family said.

The student will attend Sayre High School along with the remaining King daughters and will be involved in activities if she chooses, Dolores said. After three months, she'll switch to another host family. The Rotary continues to look for potential host families for incoming exchange students, Hibbard said.

In Belgium, Anna hopes to work on her French and travel. The country is small, but the city she'll be staying in is close to France, she said. She's taken two years of French, and Anna's host families have already assured her that they will help her out.

The experience of hosting exchange students will benefit Anna greatly, Dolores said. She has developed confidence and generosity as a result, even to total strangers.

And while taking care of someone from another country is a huge responsibility, the Kings agreed that it's also a huge honor. The family becomes larger and richer as a result, Dolores said.

"We're going to take them with us, no matter where we go," she said.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.