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

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