We are always being told to look at things from a new perspective. It is an essential part of resolving conflict, a way to finding solutions to difficult problems. Who hasn’t been asked to ‘think outside of the box’, right? By opening our minds to different approaches and understanding why people do things in certain ways, we remove barriers that allow us to view a wider picture, giving us the ability to take advantage of ideas and experiences we may not have had before.
As our world becomes ever more mixed in cultures and races, we find ourselves swirling in a sea of differences. We have never had such an opportunity to learn from one another, share our beliefs and values about that which are foreign, that which define and that which unite us, and in the process grow.
So how can we remove these barriers, grow and learn from cultural differences, and help someone else in the process? One way is by hosting an exchange student.
International Experience (iE-USA), a high school student exchange organization, is founded on the belief of learning from each other, sharing what we hold sacred to us and growing from the experiences and relationships that arise to create a world where cultural diversity is valued and celebrated. When we invite exchange students into our communities–to share in our schools, play on our teams, and sit at our tables–we invite a new perspective. Exchange students experience many ‘firsts’ with their American host family and enjoy learning and celebrating American culture and traditions.
Today I am a wife and mother in Appleton, but I will never forget the semester I spent abroad when I was in college. I lived in the dorms and met a lot of great, local students who invited me along to movies, back to their homes for holiday breaks, and took me to their favorite restaurants. I knew that someday I would like to host an exchange student to help someone else gain the same experiences and views that I did.
Years later, my husband Andy saw an ad about hosting in his company classifieds and we called to inquire. That was all it took and we were welcoming Dario, a German student, into our home just a few weeks later! We hosted Dario when our sons Charlie and Oliver were just six and three years old. It was great for Dario, as an only child, to have siblings in his host family and our boys enjoyed having their own big brother. Hosting a student doesn’t mean your family must include a teenager–your family may have small kids, or you may be empty nesters–every host family has an American experience to share. Now five years later, we still exchange gifts with Dario and his family, talk through how he’s doing as a sophomore in college, and daydream about when we’ll visit him and his family in Germany.
iE-USA’s exchange student participants are between the ages of 14-18 and come from many countries including Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Montenegro, and Austria. Each student undergoes an extensive application process and is responsible for his or her own spending money and insurance. Host families need only provide a bed, quiet place to study, and meals for a semester or full academic year. Yet what you and your family will gain is priceless.
To learn more about how you can experience cultural exchange in your own home and community as a Host Family, visit International Experience’s website at ie-USA.org. You can also e-mail Local Coordinator Judy Hintz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 920-915-1054.
Judy Hintz, iE-USA Local Coordinator