An Open Letter from the Editor of Exchange Blog

Friends in Exchange:

It is a pleasure to be able to address our readers personally at such an important time of year. July and August can be hectic for our field, but they have done a remarkable job thus far, and having watched them in action for the last eleven months I can confidently say that we will be expecting another banner placing season and school year for the students at International Student Exchange.

I started working for ISE in August of 2011, but my novice experience notwithstanding I have seen an incredible array of diversity and culture, and had the opportunity to meet some very capable people. I have had the chance to write about gracious families and talented students, and watched our program flourish under the accomplishments of both students and representatives in the field who know that the inherent value of the exchange program lies in learning, service, and celebrating diversity.

As we prepare for the close of placing season it seems necessary to reflect on the goals of student exchange. When the Exchange Visitor Program was founded Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 by the US Department of State, their goal was improve both diplomatic and cultural understanding by giving students from nations the world over a chance to see what the US had to offer. In terms of education and social mobility, we are one of the most versatile and advanced nations in the world, and when foreign students come to share in the wealth of opportunities afforded by the structure and collective goals of the United States, they go back to their home country with a better understanding of our nation and a broader understanding of what we contribute to the global community.

But this is only one end of the spectrum, because we cannot forget what accepting these students does for the United States and its citizens’ conception of the world at large. Ask yourself these questions: What do people eat for midday meals in Thailand? What is the education system like in Rio de Janeiro? What type of government is in place in Romania? If you can answer these questions than you are more culturally advanced than the greater population of the U.S., and while to some this kind of information may seem trivial, the reality is that we are predominately uniformed about our neighbors.

The risk of being insulated against cultural understanding is greater than it may seem, for while we lose touch with people with whom we share this planet, we forget our own role in the world as a contributor, and nationalism becomes our collective identity instead of the cultural “melting pot” metaphor that has become so commonplace to the U.S. vernacular. Accepting foreign students gives the United States an opportunity to find a common ground amidst the erratic disparities between one nation and the next. Each student enriches our cultural understanding, and at a younger age students of the United States can learn that people can come from different places and have a different life experience, but collectively we are united by the desire to advance, grow and learn as human beings.

These are the true tenets of student exchange, and the reasons why the program was founded and continues to be a success; but this program cannot exist without willing participants, and the volunteers that make it possible for students to come to our country, study, and leave with a greater and more profound understanding of who we are.

On a personal level, working for ISE has been an eye-opening experience. For a person who thought that he had a working knowledge of the world at large, I have been continually surprised by the experiences and knowledge I have gained in the last year. What I thought was a fairly sizeable catalogue of information about the global population turned out to only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The only way to really understand another culture is to experience it first hand by interacting with the people who have developed it, and student exchange does that on a daily basis. I am grateful for what I have learned so far, and I look forward to learning more in the years to come.

This kind of experience is available to you if you so wish. It is only a phone call away. If you want to know what it is like to expand your horizons and to help a young person realize their dreams of seeing the world, please call International Student Exchange and ask for more information. Our support staff and field representatives are waiting to hear from you.

Sincerely,

Steve Sobierajski

ISE Spotlight: Area Representative Jamin Henderson

Being an Area Representative at International Student Exchange is a difficult, but rewarding task. It takes dedication, patience, and a love for education and working with teens in order to navigate the placement process and the securing of quality families. In order to truly do the job well, one has to have the wherewithal to make a hundred inquiries for that one positive answer, but when, three months down the road, a representative gets to see a student seamlessly adopted into the family, making friends, and doing well in school, the hours of searching become well worth the effort.

This month, the Student Exchange Blog would like to introduce its readers to Jamin Henderson, an ISE Area Representative in Washington State who in her six years has placed over two hundred thirty students in homes all over the Northwestern United States. Though our conversation was somewhat brief, it was not hard to tell that Jamin is a dedicated member of the ISE team. Her story is filled with humanism, global perspective, and a passion for helping students to realize their dreams.

Jamin began working for ISE in 2006. Before that, she worked for a human aid organization that provided healthcare to the less fortunate in countries across the globe. Her involvement with the organization took her through places such as Russia, Africa, and parts of Europe and Asia. When she returned home from travelling the world, she noticed a Craigslist ad that offered a job with flexible hours, travel incentives, and a chance to work with students from many different nations and backgrounds. The choice seemed obvious.

“I loved the idea of making international connections and travelling,” says Henderson. “It makes the world smaller, and having flexibility lets me do my job when it works best for everyone, including the students.”

Since joining the team, Jamin has made it possible for students from many different nations to come and study in the United States. When asked what her favorite part of the job was, Henderson responded, “seeing the world through my student’s eyes and expanding people’s point of view. We bring the world to other people and then they get to experience things in a new way. I love finding families and being able to give kids this opportunity.”

One of the challenges that faces an Area Representative is dealing with opposing cultures and reconciling the occasional bout of culture shock that some student’s experience. Sometimes these are unavoidable for students, because transporting yourself from one side of the world to the other and living with a family whose customs differ greatly from yours can sometimes be hard to swallow at first. But Jamin has a strategy she likes to employ, and that is to remind the students that expectations and reality rarely meet in the middle. 

“I tell the students to put their expectations aside and just have a great experience,” says Henderson. “If they come here thinking that things are going be a certain way, or if they have a vision of how they want it to be, they will almost always wind up culture shocked or disappointed. If they come expecting to simply share their culture and learn about the U.S. and study, they are more likely to have a positive experience.”

As a representative, Jamin has many goals for the future of student exchange in Washington. Among enjoying her job and meeting more and more new people, she hopes “to increase her placements in Washington State so that students can see what great families we have.”

Jamin deserves our praise and respect as one of our most successful representatives. We at ISE headquarters wish you luck in the future and more happy sunny days.

International Student Exchange: Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders

Since its inception over thirty years ago, International Student Exchange has been organized and operated with the goal of “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders.” This oft appearing maxim is the defining philosophy that drives student exchange—the idea that anyone, anywhere, from any background, belief system, or demographic has the potential to achieve greatness, and that education is the means through which they will realize such a dream. Great minds become great leaders, and what ISE does is supply those minds with a chance to grown, learn, and lead.

Long before they apply for the visa, our students have already come to understand that education is more than what you can learn in a book. Education is also life experience, learning to rely on oneself, and realizing value of learning something new each and every day; it is learning to think critically, to ask questions, and to find patterns in the chaos. In essence, that is why students seek us out in the first place. The program is a chance for expansive life experience, a trip that challenges a student in ways both foreign and new, but is valuable later in life in ways that may never have been apparent had these students never taken the first step by entering the exchange program.

And isn’t that what leadership is about? In many ways being a leader means being a pioneer, having the courage to venture into the unknown, and finding a way to give what you have learned in that intellectual wilderness back to the rest of the world. A student who comes to the U.S. to study goes back with a broader understanding of life as well as a new educational understanding, and with these tools tries to instill in his or her countrymen the idea that maybe the world is not as big and scary and different as they think, but that the people on the other side of the world are a lot like them, and that culture is a thing to be shared instead of rejected or held subject to speculation.

Educating tomorrow’s leaders is about showing the global community that it is possible to find common ground, despite a separation of miles, or a disparity in cultural ideals. The famous poet and literary critic T. S. Eliot once said, “The process of advancement is interesting. It isn’t that you get bigger to fit the world; the world gets smaller to fit you.” Your reach improves, your vision sharpens, and at some point you realize that the further away you get from home, the closer you get to yourself and those around you. Advancement is bridging the gap, and education is learning to build that bridge.

Join International Student exchange today. A trip around the world is waiting for you.