Farewell Until August!

Dear students, families, friends, and colleagues,


It has been a great year. Watching our 2013/14 students live, learn, and grow in the U.S. has been a pleasure and a privilege, and I hope you have enjoyed following our progress together throughout the year.


The time has come to say goodbye to our 13/14 students, and as one academic year ends we must prepare for the next. So, our faithful readers, the blog will be going dormant until all of our August arriving students are placed and secure. If our predictions are correct, we will be back with more wonderful stories about the exchange program some time around the third week in August. Thank  you for reading, and for your feedback  during the past year.


There are lots of reasons to be a part of the exchange program, more than I could ever list here. If you or someone you know would like the opportunity to learn more, please visit our website, call our office 800.766.4656, or contact your local representative for more information.


Once again, I would like to say thank you to all the people that make this program possible. Thank you for visiting our blog, and for all of your support throughout the program year. From everyone at ISE headquarters, we wish you a happy and healthy summer, and a safe return for all of our students.


Your Friend in Exchange,

Steve Sobierajski



Getting Ready: Preparing for the Last Few Weeks

In many areas across the US the next few weeks will bring about the end of the third marking period in most schools, and that means that soon it will be time for our students to return to their respective home countries. This can be a stressful time of year. There are exams; school events, like the prom; and lots of preparations to be made for the end of the semester. And, of course, there are all the friends, family members, neighbors and teachers to see before departing. Cramming all of that into the last six to ten weeks can be a challenge, but staying organized will help to make things a little less chaotic as the days roll by.


Start by making a list of all the things you need to do before the semester ends. Below are some tips and common issues that students deal with in the final months that may help you to think your way through your own departure:

Cindy and Na at Fair

1) Do you need to convalidate your grades in your home country? The countries of Ecuador, Brazil, Italy, Spain and Mexico allow students who have studied abroad to submit their official transcripts to their country’s embassy for authentication. This process ensures that students can receive credit for their work abroad upon returning. Each country has a slightly different procedure, and it helps to know what that is before getting started. Visit the country’s embassy page on the web and do some research to find out exactly how it’s done. One thing that is for certain is that transcripts must be stamped with the school seal and signed by a notary in the state in which the school resides. Once all the documentation is gathered it is up to the student to make arrangements for the submission of all paperwork to the embassy.


2) Have you completed your service hours? Each student is required to complete at least five community service hours while residing in the US. With Spring emerging lots of organizations are going to be setting up community events, such as park clean-ups, fund drives, food and clothing drives, and community fairs and parades. Look through the community bulletin for ideas or organizations to join in which projects are being organized. The local free shopping publication is also a good place to look.

Jonathan and Pepe

3) Plan to give back: How will you thank the students, teachers, family members, and friends for all the wonderful experiences you had while living in the US? What would you like people to remember about you after you leave? A simple gesture of thanks can leave an indelible impression on those around you. Maybe you can make your host family a photo album, or write a letter to your school. Perhaps there is someone in your neighborhood who did something nice for you that needs a little help around the house?


4) Returning home: It may be weeks away, but you will be surprised at how quickly time goes by, especially when you are busy with final semester obligations. Start gathering your plan for your return trip. Make sure to give yourself some time. Sit down and think about the next few weeks. Make a “to do” list and give yourself some reasonable goals. What will you hope to accomplish between now and the end of the semester? What will you be sorry to have missed when you return home, or have you made the most of your experience from start to finish?


The J-1 exchange is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Make sure you take advantage of it. To all of our students and families, ISE wishes you all the best in the coming weeks. Be safe, happy, and healthy, and enjoy Spring!

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!

Bringing Your Holiday to the United States

The holiday season is upon us! Gatherings, gifts, vacations, and voyages are underway for the many end-of-year celebrations that take place in the U.S., and for the numerous diverse groups across the country there is plenty to celebrate.


While Christmas may dominate the landscape of December in the U.S., there are many different celebrations that take place between November and January. Hanukah and Kwanza are some of the more familiar end-of-year traditions, but there are also other celebrations like the Dongzhi Festival, celebrated by Eastern Asian cultures, the Pancha Ganapati festival, celebrated by Hindus, or Bodhi Day, celebrating the enlightenment of Bhudda.

Salvation Army

Most of these festivals share a common thread. They are all concerned with closing the year, welcoming the New Year, or concern an important religious or historical figure to whom an homage is paid. The festival of Pancha Ganapati, for example, honors the lord Pancha Ganapati and the deity Ganesha, and is a time for celebration and spiritual reflection on one’s past. The image of the deity is honored with different colored robes for each of the five days of the celebration, as well as tinsel and colorful flashing lights. Like Christmas, Pancha Ganapati, Hanukah, and the others are all celebrations that call for gatherings and feasting and are occasions for family and friends to spend time together.

Wayne with her exchange students

Some of the greatest aspects of these holiday celebrations are the different traditions that each family enjoys. Even within individual cultures and religions people celebrate the same holidays in different ways. For example, it is a widespread tradition for Christian families in the U.S. to gather for a large dinner on Christmas Eve, but in several areas of the country Christmas Eve is celebrated with fireworks and gift exchanges wait until Christmas morning.

Mingrui - Snow

The diversity in holiday traditions is what makes the season such an exciting time of year. Festivities and fun come in many different forms, and for our foreign visitors that is an important part of living abroad during this time of year. The reason the United States has such varied traditions for end-of-year celebrations is because of the worldwide influx of different cultures that have come to America over the years and shared their history with one another.

Visiting Santa

Exchange visitors are also largely responsible for creating new family traditions when it comes to the holidays, because each student and family impact one another’s’ lives in such a profound way. As an exchange visitor this is a great time to tell host family members and friends what your holiday traditions are and how your family likes to celebrate them. What kind of holiday decoration do you have in your home country? Are there any games your family and friends play that you can show to your host family?


Take this opportunity to learn as much as you can and show others what the holidays mean to you. Have a safe and healthy holiday season!


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 www.iseusa.com/Student_Exchange_Promotions.cfm?&#contestEntry 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!


Student Departures: ISE Students Begin to Head for Home

Over the course of the next few weeks, the majority of International Student Exchange’s students will be departing for home. After living in the U.S. for five or ten months they are eager to return to their families and friends but the bonds that students and families form are impossible to forget. As wonderful as it feels to be welcomed home, leaving behind the experience of living abroad is no easy task.


If you are an exchange student, your host family members become your mother, father, sisters and brothers, and the day-to-day family life becomes the most important part of the exchange program, because this is the point at which cultures and ideas truly intersect.


As a student, it is expected that you will share your life and culture with the family in which you are placed, and as a host family, it is expected that you will introduce the student to your community and the special brand of cultural immersion that only your family can offer. And if both parties are willing to learn from one another, the result is often a tearful, albeit positive, goodbye when the program comes to an end.


This year ISE has been gratefully bestowed the honor of having a tremendously accomplished set of students, whose achievements have made it possible for more and more students to find homes in the U.S. than ever before. And now that they are beginning their respective journeys home, host families can really see how much the program has changed their lives and enriched their relationships.


But the perspective gained from the program is the type that lasts long after a student departs. The greatest accomplishment is when you realize that the world may not be as big as you thought. With each year that goes by we are bringing the different nations of the world closer and closer together. By finding common ground between these cultures we may one day find a way to peacefully coexist, and ultimately bring understanding to a global scale. With each family and student that participates these goals come closer and closer.


Graduation Season Underway: International Student Exchange Celebrates Student Achievements

For many American families, one of the most rewarding aspects of the International Student Exchange’s J-1 program is being able to assist a student with big dreams realize his or her goals. Providing opportunities, offering guidance, and being there for the important milestones in a foreign son or daughter’s life is what draws people to the J-1 program, and the reward of watching that son or daughter succeed is what inspires these families to continue hosting year after year.


At no time is this more important or relevant than during graduation season, a traditional American epoch that brings families, communities and educators together in celebration. It is a time for commendation, recollection, and togetherness, and a proud moment in any parent’s life. Without undermining the achievements of our American students, what sets the exchange program apart is the journey undertaken by the parents and students who participate. Imagine the stories that will be shared once the student returns home to tell his or her friends and family about all the wonderful things that were experienced while living in the U.S., and imagine the happy memories that will be shared by the hosts that made it possible.GraduationPhoto123

In this year alone, International Student Exchange has seen students inducted into the National Honor Society, has helped students contribute thousands upon thousands of service hours to their respective communities, and has has witnessed students advance the cultural capital of our nation by providing insight into the ways that the differing nations of the world live, work, and learn. These efforts not only advance diplomacy and the image of the U.S. in the international community, they prove a immutable fact of human existence: we want to learn from one another, we want to help as many people as we can, and we want peace in our lifetimes for all nations of the world.

Departure may loom in the foreseeable future, but the families and students of ISE are in high spirits, sharing their stories, enjoying their time together, and planning for a future where each will be a part of the other’s life. With each student who takes that promising walk through commencement, who works to achieve his or her academic goals, and who brings a eclectic and engaging culture to the classroom, America becomes a stronger nation.


Exchange Students Give Thanks to the Red Cross

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.

AmRedCross11The 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.

AmRedCross5In 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.



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.



North Central Pot Luck Dinner: A Community Contribution

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.