Dozens of families across Northern Virginia will open their homes to foreign students this summer, and for most of them, it will be an experience that offers the hosts and their guests an understanding of different cultural traditions.

Hosting a foreign student "gives you a very deep personal connection with that country," said John Hubard, who with his wife, Cotton, and their two children has hosted 17-year-old Godja So nnichsen of Germany since August through a nonprofit program called Youth for Understanding.

Foreign exchange programs have expanded in the last 30 years and now offer several options for U.S. families who wish to host youths from other countries.

Through YFU, families can host high school level students for a full year or a semester. Other organizations in the area offer exchange programs for one to three months, usually during the summer.

Hosts are responsible for introducing the foreign student to American culture as well as for providing meals, a bed, study space and more. Most programs do not pay the host families.

So nnichsen said she has adjusted to the American lifestyle. She attends Yorktown High School in Arlington County and is the third chair violin player in the school's orchestra.

"I always wanted to go to the United States since I was 12 or 13," she said. "When I came, I wasn't scared, but was excited, in a positive way. I've made a lot of friends."

The transition, she said, wasn't difficult.

"The cultures are not that different between Germany and {the} U.S," she said. "But life is much busier here -- my host family has a calendar on the refrigerator that is covered with family activities and things that have to be done. Of course, I'm from a small village in Germany, so life is faster here anyway.

"I suppose the thing that many people {exchange students} found hard in the beginning was not to compare their country and the U.S. While living here, we realize that we just have different ways of doing things."

John Hubard said the experience gives his family a better understanding of the world.

"I don't think of myself so much as an American but as a person of the world, he said. "I want my kids to understand that idea."

Another national nonprofit program, Nacel (named for the woven basket that carries balloon passengers), offers foreign students a month's stay with American families during July.

"American kids are geographically isolated, they need to become more conscious of their link to a larger community, that's why programs like these are so beneficial," said Nacel area coordinator Nicole Kerschberg.

The program is seeking more than 40 area host families to sponser students, according to Kerschberg. "Many families have reinvited their students from last year, so we need new families," she said.

When choosing an exchange program, host families should be aware of the kinds of services organizations provide for students, such as insurance and staff support.

Both YFU and Nacel hold orientations for students before they leave their home countries. When the students arrive in the United States, they are escorted to their host homes, and during the stay they are assigned an area sponsor for support if they become homesick or there is a misunderstanding with the host family.

Many organizations, including YFU and Nacel, also have similar programs for American teenagers who wish to spend a year or summer abroad.

After hosting a student here, Hubard said, "when you visit Europe, it's not like you're visiting a foreign country, but it's like you're visiting a friend." STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAMS.

American Field Service (AFS): 1-800-237-4636 or 212 949-4242.

Experiment in International Living: 628-7134, contact Shirley Mohr.

Nacel Cultural Exchange: 425-8035, contact Nicole Kerschberg.

World Exchange: 968-5963, contact Wendy Ahart, or (703) 590-0032, contact Melanie Goldammer.

Youth For Understanding International Exchange: 890-2242 or 1-800-USA-0200, contact Jo Aquila Jr.

For information on organizations not listed above, call the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel at (703) 771-2040. The Council publishes "The Advisory List of International Educational Travel and Exchange Programs," which costs $6.50 and is updated yearly.