The Graduating Class of 2014

Between now and my next post, over half of our 2013/2014 class of international students will depart for their home countries. At this time of year, one can barely open a web page or social media application without reading a torrent of inspiring stories, reams of hopeful advice, and shameless stories of overcoming adversity and success in the face of failure. Well, students and families, this post will be no different, because each and every one of our graduation students deserves to be commended. As your humble admin I try to keep my editorializing to a minimum, but we can forgo that tradition for a day. I will never meet most of you, but this address is for all of you.

Milena Kaufmann from Germany. Graduated from Plainwell High School, MI posing with her host parents.

When I began working for ISE in 2011, I had little knowledge of what student exchange actually was. All I knew was that ISE has an educational mission, and that its scope was large. My tenure with the company began in the mailroom, sending out promotional materials to our field representatives and shipping documents to all corners of the globe. Being there granted me the opportunity to leaf through the miles of print material organized for distribution, and little by little I began to realize what I had become a part of. Even if my experience with our students was indirect it seemed that I was playing a small role in making a few dreams come true, and making the world a smaller, more understanding place.  As I worked my way up, I began to take on more responsibility and interact with the students on a day-to-day basis.

Hongbi

Today I sit in an office and ensure that our students have a safe and educational experience. I speak to our representatives and managers on a daily basis. I help our students connect with their families and make friends. As a part of the organization, I help to make sure that this great social experiment keeps running. And as I field calls, send emails, write articles, and read through reports, I get a picture in my head. I see a student meeting her family at the airport, or a teenager meeting his foreign brother for the first time, or, like so many of you out there, a student adjusting his or her cap and graduation,  listening to a commencement speech delivered in a language that only months before he or she may not have fully grasped.

Beatrice from Brasil just graduated from Cotter High School

I am often amazed at what our students accomplish in the time they have. They take risks and show bravery. They excel and change lives. They add their success to our own and together we get to take part in something larger than ourselves—a collective understanding that reaches across the globe. Thankfully, from where I sit, I get to see the best this program has to offer every day when students, parents, teachers, and our international partners send me photos and stories of our students. And because of that I can tell people I meet with confidence that student exchange is one of the most powerful diplomacy tools ever created. Never since its inception has there been a better way to bring people of the world closer together, nor has there been a better opportunity to show one another that we may not be so different after all.

Niklas Kaiser from Germany graduating from Sandwich HS in Illinois

If I may send you off with a few words of advice, graduates, then please remember this: never lose the ambition that brought you here, question everything all the time, and maintain a responsible and patient suspicion of anyone who tells you that they have it all figured out. Like your exchange program, life should be a journey ever forward into the unknown. If you or I or anyone else had it all figured out, there would be no reason to continue to learn from one another, and there would be no such thing as change and discovery. You have proven already that there is more to see and learn than our lifetimes will allow, but don’t ever let something as rude as time stop you from trying.

 

This is why I do what I do, and why I owe all of you my gratitude and admiration. You are the brave young people that took the plunge. You are the fuel that moves us all forward. Your spirit is what encourages us all to be curious and kind. Depart with my thanks and congratulations, and make this the world you believe we all deserve.

 

Volunteer: There is Still Time!

This has been great year for ISE’s Project HELP initiative. As of the final tally just days ago, student have contributed a total of 25,000 hours to community service, making this year another resounding success. From feeding the hungry to helping fight illness, our students have once again made ISE proud to offer this program to some of the highest caliber people this world can produce.

Rhett Walker Band with ISE students

Projects this year ranged from simple gestures of kindness, such as helping neighbors and cleaning parks, to large scale projects like our student partnership with the American Red Cross and Ronald McDonald House. In a grand coordinated effort, students have once again proved that our cultural and geographic divides mean nothing when people work together.

Habitat for Hummanity 2

For most students, the next few weeks are going to mark the culmination of the exchange program. As they return home, each student will reflect on what this year has meant, and what has been accomplished. In addition to the scholastic achievements, the new friends, the lifelong memories, each student that takes part in the program and gives to Project HELP enriches the lives of each and every American, and in many profound ways.

Habitat for Hummanity

But the year is not over yet. Schools in many places around the country still have several weeks to go. There are still people that need help and projects that can be completed. Look for a local source or begin a fund drive. Perhaps begin collecting funds for relief from the wildfires in California or the tornadoes that have devastated homes in the south. There is still time to put together events for Project HELP, so don’t be discouraged by the date on the calendar. The warm months are here, and it is time to get outside.

Community Service

If you have an idea or would like to say something to our students, like us on Facebook or tell others about your student exchange experience. Feedback from students and families is always welcome, so please let the world know that we can work together to create something amazing.

Good luck and thanks to our departing students!

Homeward Bound: Students Looking Toward Reentry

Within a few shorts weeks, many schools across the US will break for the summer. For ISE, that means that a good number of our students will be returning home, and that can be a stressful time for everyone. There will be preparations for departure, final exams to take, goodbyes, and plenty of social engagements that fill the final weeks before everyone heads their separate ways. In the midst of it all, students have to consider how they feel about returning home. Though exciting, return home can be as disorienting as it was to leave home in the first place.

Helena

One may hear a student, “It has been an amazing year, and we are ready to return home after a year in the United States.” This is the kind of experience ISE wants every student to have. The student has had a productive year, full of learning, cultural immersion, and academic achievements. He or she has made friends, established ties to the community, and will have many stories to tell. But has he or she considered what it will be like to reenter the community from which they departed a year ago?

airport family

Many students report that they have to reconnect with their friends, and that it can be somewhat difficult. Those who have stayed behind have lived year of their own. How will they react when their friend comes back, having lived a separate life in another country for such a long time? For students, it is important to remember that although people will be curious to hear about the adventure of studying abroad, not everyone is offered the same opportunity, and some acquaintances may react in unexpected ways.

Farewell 4

The most important thing a student should do, aside from packing and making sure all documents are in order before departure, is to consider his or her own feelings. What does leaving the US, your home for the last year, mean to you? How do you feel about returning to your former community and social circles? What will you want to remember most about your experience? What kind of mementos will you bring with you? Are you excited or anxious to reenter your old school, or are you jumping right into university studies when you arrive? Do you want to bring your family members something representative of the state or the country that you lived in?

Kasimir Leaving

A smart approach to sorting out  the anxiety about travelling home is to sit down and write it out. Make some time to jot down some ideas, even if it is just a “to-do” list, it will help to organize your thoughts. Maybe you might want to make a list of people that you want to talk to before you leave, and maybe there are people out there who deserve a thank you. One of the regrets some students experience is that time went by very fast at the end of the program and they missed their chance to speak to everyone that an impact on their year abroad.

 

Whatever your choice is, just remember that time goes by quickly, particularly during the end of the program. Making a few preparations before boarding your flight can make the transition home a little easier. Good luck and happy trails to our students. It has been a great year, and it is not over yet!