Priceless bonds formed between exchange students and families

Newton native's business brings students together through exchange program

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  • The Winfield girls, of Hampton welcoming Claire Bodio, of Meximieux, France.

  • Claire Bodio, of Meximieux, France and the Winfield girls, of Hampton.

Claire Bodio lives in the hamlet of Meximieux, France. It's a two hour train ride from Paris and thousands of miles away from Sussex County, N.J., yet she's made the journey not just to America, but specifically to Hampton, N.J. three times in the past three years. Claire makes the journey because she has formed a very special bond with the Winfield family that was set up by Newton resident Sandra Polizzo.

After spending time coordinating student tours for another company, Polizzo, loved the work so much that she decided to start her own company. There was one caveat, though — she vowed to add a much more personalized, hands on approach to her business.

"I realized the importance of meeting and greeting every visiting guest from the moment they arrived in the United States to the time they departed," she said.

In 2009, Customized Student Tours, LLC, was born and her personalized approach has resulted in her forging strong relationships with teachers, administrators and vendors with whom she does business in an effort to underscore that these tours are a once-in-a-lifetime event for the participants.

"Its so important to ensure that visiting students have the most memorable, fun and safe trip possible," Polizzo said.

Her goal is to provide students in Sussex County and students living in Europe with the opportunity to travel and live in a foreign country while making new, life-long friends.

"It's a great feeling to travel to another country and visit new schools and communities for the first time. It removes stigmas and barriers and promotes learning and understanding," said Polizzo.

It's also a once-in-a-lifetime experience for host families as the Winfields have discovered. Brittany Winfield heard about the French exchange program at Kittatinny Regional High School where she is a student. She set up an interview with Polizzo and the family was matched with Bodio. They met for the first time in October 2011 when Bodio came to the U.S. with 20 of her classmates for a 10 day stay.

"One of the reasons she was paired with our family is because we requested a student who speaks English fluently," said Brittany's mother, Diane Winfield.

Bodio proceeded to stay with the Winfields in 2011. The family adjusted to her British accent (she was taught English that way) and soon a nice bond was formed with her. The following summer, her parents bought her a ticket to come back and stay with the family for a month, and then this past Christmas, as a gift, her grandfather offered her the chance to return this summer. She's currently staying with the Winfields for seven weeks.

"[Bodio] and our family have been an inspiration to each other," Diane said, "She has taught us about her culture by making us a French four-course dinner and has brought us French gifts. We have shown her several states in America and introduced her to American cuisine. We love this kid. She is like one of our own at this point."

"I love discovering new things like TV shows, places and expressions with my family, " Bodio said.

The family has taken her to Vermont, and to Cape May on the Jersey Shore.

"We usually go to the lake and boat and we always have a good time."

Bodio has also had the opportunity to see an American school as she shadowed the Winfield's younger daughter, Kalei, for two days when she first came.

In the future, Bodio would like to attempt going to college in the U.S. and earn a degree in French Education.

Customized Student Tours has hundreds of stories like this one. The company runs all-inclusive student exchange tours within the United States and Internationally. Domestically, they specialize in trips to New York City, Washington D.C., Boston and Philadelphia, and internationally they organize student tours in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Scotland and Germany. While traveling, students have the choice to participate in a home-stay program or choose to stay in a hotel, hostel or bed and breakfast.

"We have developed strong relationships with some of the best schools in the nation. These schools embrace the exchange experience and welcome our visiting students with open arms," Polizzo said.

"We work hand-in-hand with our customers to ensure that every tour is customized to their every need," Polizzo said, "While having a fun and educational tour it is also of paramount importance to put equal focus on the safety of our travelers."

Polizzo's hands on reputation has spread, and her business has grown tremendously since its inception.

For further information about Customized Student Tours, visit

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