In an effort to gain insight from it’s foreign student body, ISE recently launched a mid-semester evaluation survey in which students could offer feedback on the kinds of experiences they were having and how the services offered by the organization could be improved. The survey was an extension of an initiative suggested by the Department of State to get more information and input from students about how often they are in contact with their local representatives, what kinds of challenges they have face during the program, and whether or not they feel supported during their stay in the US.
The response has been overwhelming, to say the least. With nearly with over 2,500 students enrolled in the J-1 program, approximately 90% of the recipients returned the survey forms to ISE headquarters in Babylon, New York. Reminiscent of the iconic scene in Miracle on 34th Street (bags upon bags of envelopes being poured on the judge’s desk) ISE employees have begun the task of opening, sorting, reading, and addressing the content of the letters. They are happy to report that students have submitted a nearly unanimous favorable opinion of the program, the host families, the representatives, and the experiences they have had. The positive feedback shows that despite being spread across the country and in a vast array of different cities, students overall feel a strong connection to the program and their local communities.
Among the most positive responses are those related to a student’s relationship with his or her family. Responses such as, “They are like family to me,” “We have a lot of fun,” and “They are great. Whenever I have a problem I always talk with my host family and they helped me a lot,” seem to suggest that students have little trouble integrating into their families and maintaining that relationship throughout the program.
The survey also shows that students are active and involved in community and school activities, suggesting that students feel comfortable becoming part of their locality and making an effort to integrate into social events. The most popular activities listed and enjoyed by students are football, cheerleading, and community service organizations, with some students raving about being able to join school sports when they did not expect to be allowed because they were from another country.
In order to show appreciation for those students who participated, ISE entered each student who returned a completed survey into a raffle for a brand new iPad Mini. The winner was chosen at random before the letters were opened.
Exchange Students from International Student Exchange’s Smokey Mountain Region (Tennessee and Kentucky) met on a warm spring day in April to show their appreciation for one of the largest charitable organizations in the world, the American Red Cross.
By washing vehicles, planting flowers, and landscaping the grounds of the Red Cross facility in Tennessee, students aimed to give back to the Red Cross organization, which works during times of international crises to bring care to injured soldiers, feed the hungry, and coordinate one of the largest blood banks in the world. It was a moment of international solidarity for both organizations, and though the two groups share a somewhat different approach to volunteerism, both groups firmly belief in service and outreach, ideals which serve not only the locality, but the public at large, setting an example for the global community.
The international students and the members of the Red Cross share a kinship in that they are both dedicated to service. The American Red Cross, formed in 1881, has been at the forefront of volunteerism and service to those in need for over 100 years, bringing medicine, food, and care to people around the world, while the students from ISE have taken the initiative to participate in Project H.E.L.P., a volunteer group associated with their visa sponsor that works with local and international organizations to coordinate service projects around the country.
In addition to offering a simple “sprucing up” to the Red Cross facility in Tennessee, ISE’s Project H.E.L.P. has worked with the victims of hurricane Katrina, aided in cleanups from national disasters, and volunteered to assist children at St. Jude’s Hospital, just to name a few of the more expansive projects.
Exchange student, Gabriel Lopez, attending a reception at which his host father, Todd Hiday, was honored for his continual service to the local Republican Party, had a chance to meet with Congressman Luke Messer, who made it a special point to congratulate Lopez on all of his success on the exchange program.
Described by his host mother, Melissa Hiday, as “member of the family” and “[our] third child”, Gabriel has managed to become a well known part of the community in which he was placed. In addition to being honored by Congressman Messer and earning the respect of his classmates and community, he has also been asked to return on a new visa in the fall to play college basketball.
Congratulations to Gabriel and the Hiday Family. We wish you all happy and healthy remainder of the program, and that Gabriel can fulfill his wishes and return this fall.
There are those who believe that the American sense of family, the community that exists between, among, and within families in his country, has become a thing of the past. It seems rare that people discuss or even mention the inherent complexity and importance of the American family dynamic and its effect on the cultural image we project in the global community. Long gone are the days of the Cleaver Family, Good Housekeeping, and Betty Crocker images Americans are so famous for producing, but what has not changed is the core idealism: We are a nation of families, and those families form the bonds that hold the nation together. What our families do, who are families are, and what our families strive for, the ambition and the sacrifice, the mutability of the modern family, and its capability to adapt to ever shifting cultural change is the reason we can continue, despite political disorder, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest, to coexists and move forward as a nation.
There are those who would argue that a high divorce rate and a dwindling marriage rate would indicate the contrary, but all these statistics mean is that we are augmenting the way we interpret the idea of family. We are collectively broadening our understanding of what familial bonds mean and how they function, and we are looking toward the future with a greater understanding for what the American family dynamic may come to be. Change is the engine of our social constitution, and the American Family, along with the American Ideal, the American Dream, and the American People, will evolve as a whole.
You may ask, “What does this have to do with student exchange?” In a word: Everything. Families and students are fundamental elements of the exchange program. Without our host families our students would have no means to experience the U.S., and without the academic and edifying interests of the students there would be no cultural exchange program.
As a cultural exchange program, we expect our students and families to share in one another’s traditions and customs. Students come to study in American schools, meet other American students, and become a part of the American family. The importance of “integration” is paramount, because the most successful pairings are the ones where the student comes to meet the host family and the student is seamlessly inducted as a member. But it matters just as much that the students bring their customs and values with them to the U.S., and that the host family reaches toward understanding, sharing who the student is and what he or she has learned both within the family and outwardly in their community.
These iconic exchange moments, while magnanimous and significant in scope and effect, often take place amidst what most Americans would consider ordinary events. It is the sharing of food, the discussion of differences in customs and traditions, the immersion in pop culture and cinema, or the experience of setting foot in an American city. In these everyday moments Americans and foreign exchange students are forging a path towards global enlightenment and understanding; they are, very simply and nobly, exchanging ideas and participating in the one and only kind of merger that is ever going to unify this planet.
For these reasons and others the students and families of the North Central region deserve a little recognition for carrying the torch that much further with their community pot luck dinner. Whether they realize it or not, each and every person in attendance is taking part in something bigger and greater than just a meal, though it is the food and promise of a good laugh or a conversation that draws people to the event in the first place. Students from all over the globe and families from all over the region met together, some of them for the first time, and shared in a simple dinner, the end result of which was another small (albeit essential) step forward towards the achievement of a unified global community.
The smiling faces and hungry eyes are enough recognition of the importance of this culinary cultural exchange, but the memories these people will take home with them, the experiences the students will take back overseas, and the bonds they will form that outlast the best of meals are what matters to our organization and to our families. Thank you to North Central for giving these students and families the chance to become active purveyors of the exchange ideal, and for all the people who made this night possible.
Student exchange touches the lives of all that are involved. Take for instance a 12 year old who is a host sister to an exchange student. She wrote a poem about how much she loves having an exchange student live with her.
You came here on a
the thought sometimes
gave you a chill.
Just a wink until you
but now you love and
Studied hard in
school with tests,
and sometimes had
though,came out strong,
and up on stage on
Graduation Day is where you belong.
Sometimes we argued
then strength in each
other is what we sought.
Because we were
sisters, we didn’t always agree,
but you’ll always be
on top for me.
You were here,
here just one year.
Changing me and
making friends, it’s
what we do.
I’ll miss you when
but back home is
where you belong.
I know I’ll cry, but
thank you anyways,
I promise I’ll
remember you always.
again for all the cool stuff!
We can always look positively upon the impact that student exchange has not only host families, but on the children that live with these exchange students.