Hundreds of State Department-sponsored international high school exchange students recently met in Washington, D.C., after a successful year at schools across the United States. "Reach out beyond the known and make a difference," Secretary of State John Kerry told them as they came together before returning to their home countries.
While the students are going beyond the known, so too are the many host families who open their hearts and homes to these exceptional international students. It is important to me -- and to the State Department -- to recognize and thank the Americans who host exchange students. Communities in every state have welcomed more than 50,000 State Department-sponsored international exchange students. Here are just three ways hosting an exchange student will enrich your life.
Expand your world
Jessica from Redding, California, has been hosting international students since before she had children of her own. Now she has two children, and she shared how they have grown up with exchange students as their "brothers and sisters," giving her family a deeper understanding of other cultures. Laurie, a host parent from Utah, expressed similar sentiments, adding how her family was transformed by seeing the world through the eyes of others living in their home. "The students come with so many dreams and passions. They influenced my own children to follow their dreams and open new doors." Many host families find that having an exchange student in their family helps to dispel myths - about the U.S. and other countries - that so easily create division among people.
Form lasting ties
Jessica, like almost all of the host family members I have talked with, still keeps in touch with the exchange students she has hosted. In fact, soon she will attend a former exchange student's wedding in Colombia. Another host parent, Claire from New Jersey, experienced America through new eyes when she took her host student, Tijana from Serbia, on a trip down the California coast. Tijana began to cry upon seeing whales in the Pacific Ocean, explaining that she never dreamt that she would see something like that in her life. Claire said: "That was a really powerful experience for me. It meant a lot to be able to do something so simple that actually changes a person's life." In states around the country, and in countries around the world, ties are being established that will last a lifetime.
Enrich your community
Exchange student Vadym from Ukraine brought new meaning to community service in his Iowa host community by creating a larger-than-life Lego cardboard structure that helped bring attention to the plight of the homeless.
Another student, Asad from Pakistan who stayed in Redding, California, this past year, hosted a radio talk show about exchange students on a local community radio station. He also spoke before the district school board, which led to a 74-year-old veteran writing: "I don't think in my 74 years I have ever met a young man that has the acquaintance with facts, truths, and principles more than Asad.... I think this young man is a leader in the making." Jessica said that many people in Redding are not exposed to international cultures on a regular basis. But hosting break down barriers in a way that only occurs through people-to-people exchanges.
The experiences of Jessica and Laurie speak volumes on this life-changing experience. I hope you consider expanding your world, forming lasting ties, and enriching your community by opening your home to an outstanding State Department-sponsored exchange student. You may end up hosting again and again, like Jessica. To learn more, visit hosting.state.gov.