How to Beat the Lulls: Keeping Busy in the Winter Months

The holidays are behind us and the Spring season has yet to begin. On top of that the constant bad weather has been making everyone miserable. An unexpected snow day can be a lot of fun, but with school cancelled and travel impossible cabin fever sets in pretty quickly. So what is to be done? How can you keep yourself busy during the next few weeks without driving your family nuts?


1) Start a project: Every student must complete at least five hours of community service, and it will take time to plan out a community service project. Take some time to plan instead of trying to find a project or group to join at the last minute. This will not only help you perform a better, more organized project, but it will make it more personal because you thought it up on your own. Planning ahead and exploring your options will also give you a wider variety of projects and more meaningful projects from which to choose. Try to think of what your community needs or something that would improve the quality of life for your neighbors, then put your creative mind to work.


2) Practice your English: Exams will be coming up in a few short months. If you are struggling with the language, there are several different ways you can improve your skills. One fairly simple option is to check a few English language novels out of the library and plow through them with your dictionary in hand. If you need some material that is a little more accessible, go to the young-adult section and find some classics. Many publishers release copies of books with simplified language for a younger audience. While they may not be geared to our age group, they will be easier for a non-native English speaker to understand. When you return home you can impress your friends and family by telling them you read Frankenstein, Moby Dick, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


3) Find a community group to join: In almost every town in the U.S. there are shared interested groups such as Kiwanis, 4H, outdoor clubs, and sporting groups. Groups such as these are places for community members to gather and share in a common interest. Not only will you be able to make friends and meet new people, but very often there is a charitable aspect of such groups, which may help you develop an idea for your service project.


4) Start a blog or journal: Let’s face it, your time here is short. Although it seems daunting in the beginning, five or ten months will whiz by. Before you know it the time will come to return home. Keeping a record of your time in the U.S. will help you remember how important it was to participate in the exchange program and remind you of all the adventures you had. If you are web savvy and have the ability to start a blog, your friends, family, and teachers can see what a great time you are having. Post lots of pictures and try to take in as much of your surroundings as possible to show people what it is like to live in your community. You may also inspire other students to do as you have done. The more we share our cultures with one another the closer we come to global understanding.


5) Make time to talk to your host family: People are busy. Sometimes our busy lives make it difficult to spend time together. Why not plan a family dinner, or a trip to the movies (weather permitting), or a game night, and bring everyone together for some quality time? If you take the initiative your family will appreciate the sentiment. Showing people that you want to spend time with them gives them a good feeling and makes them value the time they spend with you.


6) Relax: It is easy to get caught up in the “rat race”, especially when you are a busy student. Always remember to take some time for yourself. Read, write, exercise, go for a walk, ride a bike, and just enjoy being alone for a little while. Reflecting is a powerful part of memory and concentration. Examining your own life and the choices you make will help you make good decisions in the future. Sometimes if we take a step back from our busy lives it is easier to appreciate all the people we know and the things we have done. Never underestimate the power of a little downtime.


Keep in mind that there are only a few months left of the exchange program, and the last eight weeks will go by very fast. You will be studying for exams, trying to take in some time with friends, and rushing to get all your documentation together before leaving to head for home. You don’t want to waste the time you have available now. Each day an opportunity to go out (or hunker down) and learn something new.


Be safe and warm, everyone. ISE wishes you all a great weekend!

ISE Student Takes Community Service to a Whole New Level

Brazilian exchange student, Ana, came to the U.S. to experience a new culture and to refine her English language skills. She was placed with the Spencer family in Longmont, CO, and settled into her new life with relative ease.


“My host family is amazing,” Ana stated. “I have never had a brother before, so it’s great.”


Shortly after her arrival, Ana heard news that a major rain storm was coming. Thinking at first that the storm was no big deal, Ana went to bed like it was any other night. She never could have imagined what would happen next. When she awoke the next morning, her Twitter timeline was buzzing with messages describing wreckage and devastation from a flood. She quickly went to the TV and saw with her own eyes what was happening outside.


Flood 2


“I was on a hill, so I wasn’t worried about my house. I did walk down to see the flooding. I was shocked to see the roads covered with water and the bridges destroyed.”


The floods had damaged over 20,000 homes and destroyed roads, bridges and business. The devastation was intense, but Ana didn’t do much for the next few days. School was cancelled, so she just spent time with a few friends. Soon, people that she knew began to be evacuated, and more and more people from Brazil contacted her to make sure she was ok. She assured them that everything was fine and that she was safe in her home.  After a few days, she decided that it was time to do something.


Flood 1


On day three Ana woke up and decided to get to work. She had volunteered in Brazil in the past and she realized that her community needed her.


“I asked myself, ‘Why should I sit in my bedroom if I could be out doing something?’ I told my host mom that I wanted to help.”


Flood 3


Ana’s host mother called a friend that was involved in the community. Her friend directed Ana to the mall where people could sign up to volunteer. Ana jumped in immediately. That day Ana was assigned to take supply orders for FEMA. She had never heard of FEMA before; there was nothing like it in Brazil. She wound up working over four hours that first day.


“After the first day, I thought I was really helping people. It made me want to go back to help again.”


On the second day, Ana was assigned to work at the warehouse. Her responsibilities were to gather supplies and help people get specific items in the “market”. She assisted families in deciding what they would need to get by for the upcoming week. In everything she did she felt a sense of accomplishment. It felt good to help. At one point, she met a man that didn’t want anything. He was living in his car because his house was destroyed. Even though he had lost everything, he didn’t want to take much from the people who needed it more than he.


“It made me feel so grateful about the everything I have and the host family I live with. People are so nice in this country. It was amazing to see someone left with nothing, but yet still was thinking of his fellow community.”


Ana went back for a third day, enjoying the volunteer work and the help that she was able to offer to people. She is planning on joining a club or even starting one that would focus on relief for those who have lost their homes. Things are beginning to get to normal in Longmont, but there is still a lot of work to be done.


“After this experience, it taught me to be thankful for what you have. Sometime you don’t even notice your small things might be big things to other people.”


Halloween in the USA

Get your costume ready! Halloween is only a few short days away, and for Americans that means parties, festivals, parades, candy, and maybe even a few tricks. At this point you have probably noticed that your neighborhood has begun to take on a playfully ghastly appeal, with people adorning their homes with carved pumpkins and ghosts and skeletons. Although it may seem strange to decorate one’s house with such gruesome objects, what most people don’t even realize is that they are actually participating in a European tradition that dates back to the 1500’s and was carried over to the States by our more recent ancestors.

 Anja Carving her Pumpkin

It is a widely held belief that the modern Halloween traditions of carving pumpkins, wearing disguises, begging for treats, and practicing mischief are all remnants of Celtic and Christian rituals. The Celtic rituals were performed in the fall after harvest was complete, and symbolized a time of the year when the earth was caught between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In later years, Christians, in honor of deceased saints and faithful followers, would celebrate All Saints Day, the preceding evening being titled All Hallows Eve, during which children and poor people would dress in guise and beg for food.

 pumpkin patch 2

The traditions were carried over to the United States during the large influx of European immigrants in the early 1900, when many Irish and Scottish were trying to escape the Great Potato Famine that was decimating food supplies in their home countries. The practice of carving pumpkins comes also from this culture, whose people were accustomed to carving turnips and placing candles inside. Because pumpkins were easier to carve and more abundant, the pumpkin took the turnip’s place and became the traditional symbol for Halloween in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more about the story of the Jack O’ Lantern, click on this link.


Today, many of the celebrated Halloween traditions include trick or treating, bonfires, costumes, parties and games. Kids will flock to the streets dressed as witches, superheroes, ghosts and pirates, knocking on doors for candy and arranging games like bobbing for apples. If you are new to American culture, all of this may seem odd to you, but for the most part it is all in good fun.

 pumpkin patch

If you think this sounds like fun try joining this year’s ISE Halloween Costume contest. You can win a bag of ISE goodies and have your picture on the ISE Facebook page for your friend and family back home to see. Just go to this website and submit the photo of yourself dressed for Halloween. Then you can vote on the best costume.

 pumpkin patch 4

Have a safe and happy Halloween!


Host Family Honored, Exchange Student Meets Congressman

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.



BBC Reporter Visits Host Family in FL, Shows the Power of High School Exchange

Franz Strasser, a digital reporter for BBC World News America and originally from Germany files a video report about his return to Mayo, Florida, where he spent the 2001-02 school year as a high school exchange student living with the Gresham family. For the Greshams, hosting an exchange student was not only about broadening their horizons, but also about adding another member to their family.

 “When you moved into the house and you were straight from Germany,” Aaron Gresham, Strasser’s host brother, reminisced, “it was a big culture shock because, you know, you did things a lot differently than we do things here in the States. But it was a good experience for me, because you were probably the first person from another country that I’ve met.”

 Added Strasser’s other host brother, Alex, about hearing his family would take in an exchange student: “I was excited because I was thinking, ‘Oo, another brother!’”

 For Strasser, his experience as an exchange student with the Greshams directly led to his current career: “My path to ultimately living and working in the [U.S.] started right here [in Mayo]

Strasser points out, however, that the importance of his time as a high school exchange student ultimately did not lie in school or language studies or the chance to travel to a new place. Rather,
it lay in gaining a new family and experiencing the real people and places that make up the United States. As Strasser concludes:

“What made it so special was [the Greshams] didn’t treat me as a foreigner; they took me in as one of their own.

 “…It’s one thing to be lucky enough to spend a year in an American high school as an exchange student. But my idea about this country— its hospitality and the character of its people—was shaped in this small town and by this family.”