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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

The J-1 Exchange Program: A Short Look at a Long History

The International Student Exchange’s secondary school student program brings over 2800 students to the U.S. every year. Academics and cultural immersion are the focus of the program, as well as improving diplomatic relations between different countries. Over the course of the last fifty years, the global efforts of the organizations that promote the program have literally brought hundreds of thousands of students and families together.

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The visa issued by the U.S. Department of State that makes the program possible is the J-1 visa. This visa allows a student or an exchange visitor to come to the United States for a period of up to twelve months and study in a public school while living with a host family. Host families are volunteers, and they participate in the program simply for the experience and the opportunity to enrich their lives. When the students return home at the end of the program, they improve the diplomatic relations of the U.S. by telling their friends and family about their experience, spreading the word about the amazing year they have had.

Community Service

The history of the J-1 visa goes back to 1961 and the institution of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act. Created by Senator J. William Fulbright, the act’s purpose was to increase understanding between people of different nations through the common goal of promoting education and cultural understanding. It consolidated many of the former laws already on the books which set up agreements with individual nations, and gave more freedom and resources to students and institutions that promoted and participated in the program.

Project Help Group

What students and families should take away from this program is the idea of cooperation and understanding. Governments, students and families have continued to advance these programs for the last 60 years, and that has been no small undertaking. Issues of politics, conflict, economics, and ideals occasionally get in the way, but at this time there are more participants in exchange programs the world over than Fulbright might have ever imagined was possible. The success of the program is due to the fact that peoples of differing nations want to understand one another, and that human have an instinct to learn as much as they can.

 

The future of the exchange program is in the hands of the students, and that is exactly where it should be. As long as there are people who want to learn from one another, and bridge the boundaries that define nations, the effort to reach world peace through understanding still has a chance.

 

For more information on the J-1 visa and the exchange visitor program, please visit the following links: Fulbright-Hays Act, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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.

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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.

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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?

Giraff

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?

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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!

Red Cross Month: How You Can Help

The American Red Cross has been helping people in need since it was founded by Clara Barton in 1881. Known internationally for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, the American Red Cross has been a source of compassion, medical care, and CPR training for millions of soldiers and civilians since its inception.

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This year International Student Exchange has teamed up with the Red Cross to help them accomplish their mission. ISE students and families have already begun organizing and executing blood drives and gathering donations for Red Cross outposts across the country. Want to get involved? Well you’re in luck, because March just so happens to be Red Cross month. Right now is a great time to get started.

Most people know the Red Cross as an organization that runs blood drives, and it is true that blood collection is a large part of what they do. But did you know that the Red Cross also provides classes and training in lifesaving skills; provides food,water and supplies to disaster victims; and has offered support to the military since the 1800′s? Internationally known for its efforts to help those in need, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to expand their network and fulfill the needs of more and more people.

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There are plenty of ways that parents and students can get involved:

-Organize a donation drive at your school or church. Funds are needed to obtain supplies and personnel both at home and abroad.

-Set up a blood drive. Gather a few of your community members or friends together to make this happen. Collection points can be at a school or any other community center willing to let the space be used. Red Cross personnel can make themselves available for your blood drive.

-Help the Red Cross by volunteering at one of their outposts. Trucks get dirty, offices get cluttered, and organizing events is hard work. The Red Cross is always happy to accept help from local communities.

-Take a lifesaving course, get certified, and share your newfound knowledge with your friends and family. Learning CPR and other lifesaving techniques are invaluable for you and those around you. One day you just might save a life.

-Begin a social media campaign. Pressed for time or can’t give blood? Why not use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to help out?

These are just a few ideas, but there are many more on ISE’s Project Help site, and at redcross.org. Assisting the Red Cross is an excellent way to complete service hours for your exchange program or gain community service experience. Check them out today and see how you can help.

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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!

The 2014 Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympic Games have been played in 22 cities around the world since the start of the 20th century. As an athletic competition, the contest assembles the best athletes from every corner of the globe to compete in events such as bobsledding, skiing, speed skating, ice hockey, and luging, with each country competing to bring home the gold medal. Hosting the Olympics is considered a great honor, and many countries vie for the right to host in order to boost political morale amongst their citizens and reap the benefits of increased jobs, inflated revenues, and international exposure for their respective way of life.

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Like any event that draws a lot of attention, the Olympics has had a few unfortunate controversies, including the hosting of the games, the use of performance enhancing drugs, and the interference of politically motivated radicals using the worldwide exposure of the games to perpetuate violence. With the exception of several of the games, these brief periods of uncertainty and upheaval have done little to affect the spirited participation of the athletes that make the games. The number of countries participating in the competition has risen steadily throughout the history of the Olympics with very few setbacks, and the overall reception of the games has been generally positive.

 

Finances and politics aside, what makes the Olympics such an important part of the collective global community is the multiculturalism and diplomacy represented by the olympians. The games are a time to put human differences and political machinations on hold, albeit for a short while. While not every competing country may share the same beliefs, each athlete is connected to the thousands of other contestants through a common goal. Each athlete that competes in the games has trained in his or her respective sport for years, enduring the discipline and arduous effort required to become an olympian.

 

Another aspect of the games to consider is the number of people that witness the games. Next to the Super Bowl and the World Cup, the Olympics attracts millions of viewers from all over the world, making it one of the most highly viewed events in human history. When one considers the number of people watching the games it becomes clear that the Olympics has the ability to unify the different nations of the world by providing common ground.

 

This year, 88 countries will compete in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and despite numerous setbacks the games will begin in a few short hours with the grand spectacle of the opening ceremony. International Student Exchange wishes all of the athletes a safe and successful journey through this year’s games.

Super Bowl Sunday: How the US Does Football

This year’s Super Bowl is scheduled for February 2nd. Along with the athletic competition, Super Bowl XLVIII promises to offer up all the bombastic pageantry and media-blitz entertainment that Americans have come to know and love over the last forty-eight years. For die-hard fans and casual viewers alike, the Super Bowl has come to be recognized in the U.S. as an event akin to a national holiday, and attracts millions upon millions of viewers each and every year. What may seem strange is that the Super Bowl has the allure to attract viewers are don’t even identify themselves as sports fans. The culture of the game involves many different forms of celebration, and the celebration has many traditions.

 

Food: On average, Super Bowl fans will consume 1.23 billion chicken wings,  325 million gallons of beer, and 11 million pounds of chips on game day (1). The festivities call for all manner of snacks, however, and an entire industry has been built around preparing food and drink for the Super Bowl Sunday celebrations. Cooking shows feature a plethora of recipes for game-day fare (2), most of which involve finger foods and high-calorie treats, and the sale of antacids soars to accommodate the widespread indigestion many fans will experience. It may seem like a gluttonous pastime, but keep in mind that food and drink are very often a communal activity, and the sharing of tasty treats on Super Bowl Sunday is an activity that friends gather for and contribute to, often making it friendly contest to see who can offer up the tastiest football goodies.

 

Commercials: A total of $262.5 billion dollars was spent on advertising during the Super Bowl last year, with a total of $1.85 billion spent in the last ten (3). For advertisers and marketing firms, securing a 30 second slot during the United State’s most televised sporting event is the equivalent of finding King Arthur’s Holy Grail. With a conservatively estimated 100 million viewers, Super Bowl ads have one of the largest captive audiences in the history of mankind. In terms of effectiveness, commercials generally tend to use humor, such as the 2013 Doritos ad featuring the sale of a goat with a Doritos addiction (5), or an appeal to the consumer’s sympathies, such as the the 2013 Budweiser Clydesdale ad (6).  With respect to the high production value and the captive audience to which these advertisements appeal, Super Bowl ads have generated their own celebrity in the past few years, with many ads being “leaked” via short trailers to the public days before the game take place.

 

Community: People gather for the Super Bowl, coming together in numbers almost as large as those seen on Christmas and Thanksgiving. With respect to estimated 100 million viewers, the game is broadcast to 52 million households, meaning that watching the game alone is rare (7). When compared to the statistics of the total population,  60% of United States citizens claim to be football fans, meaning that the number of viewers who watch the superbowl outweighs the number of people who claim to like football. Hence, it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that the Super Bowl has more to offer the casual fan or the viewer totally uninterested in football any other time of the year something more than just a sporting competition (8). The sporting event is more about the pageantry and spectacle than the actual game itself, and even those whose favorite teams are not featured still managed to find time to sit through four quarters of football on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Fortune: The average cost of a ticket to the Super Bowl in 2014 is $3,934, a typical 30 second ad spot during the game sells for over 3.5 million dollars, and a hotel room in the city in which the game is held will run upward of $1000 at a budget hotel(9). Players who participate in the game make anywhere from $44,000 to $88,0000 just for showing up, and it has been rumored that people have paid as much as $20,000 for a single ticket to the game. On the whole the collective costs of all the varied aspects of game day is tough to calculate, but it is somewhere in the billions of dollars, making it one of the most expensive and enriching sporting events in the world next to the Olympics and the World Cup.

 

But enough about the numbers, whether you are a diehard football fan, a lukewarm watcher, or have no idea how the game is played, the Super Bowl has a little something for everyone. It is a time to gather with friends and scream at the television, even if you have no idea why you are yelling. As always, please enjoy Super Bowl Sunday responsibly and safely, and if you’re going to partake in the game day treats, make sure to have plenty of Tums on hand.

Paying it Forward in January

“Pay it Forward” is an idea and an expression that is generating a lot of attention these days, as well as  many benevolent and often random acts of charity and kindness. The phrase was often used widely in the fields of banking and lending, but it has come to mean something very different in our modern parlance. The idea is fairly simple. When someone does a good deed that helps you, offers you a random act of kindness, or simply treats you with respect and does something that gives you a good feeling, you in turn do the same for a stranger rather than repaying the “debt”. In a sense, you carry that good deed to the next person, who will, hopefully, do the same for the next person.

 

The idea of paying it forward is spreading, too. Just this morning your humble correspondent opened his facebook page to find an invite to the Second Annual Pay it Forward Weekend, taking place from January 17 to January 19. A novel idea, I thought, because as much as we wish that people were benevolent, respectful, and courteous to one another everyday, sometimes there has to be an occasion for people to realize the value of an idea such as this. I signed on right away and hoped that my readers would as well.

 

Paying it forward does not require a grand charitable gesture, or the expenditure of large sums of money. It can and should be something simple. It should be something that makes one person feel good. That being said, I offer up the following anecdote as an example of paying it forward, and how a simple act of kindness can often mean a lot when it comes unexpectedly.

 

A few years ago I took a trip to Germany. I landed in Berlin with zero knowledge of the language, and only a cursory knowledge of the city. It was also my first visit to Europe, and when my feet hit the ground I existed in a state of mild panic that someone would figure out I was from the U.S. and make me pay for it somehow. The U.S. was losing the global popularity contest and I there was no way to hide my citizenship. I assumed that I felt the way our students feel when they land at the airport to be greeted by strangers, except no one was holding a sign heralding my arrival.

 

Berlin was a maze, the language was rapid-fired between people on sidewalks and in shops, and everything was written in a mishmosh of Roman letters I recognized, peppered with symbols I did not. On the first day, determined to begin my attempt at understanding my new surroundings, I strayed from my hotel to a Christmas market in Potsdamer Platz. Attracted by the sounds of music and the smells of roasting meat and hot wine I dove into the crowd, walking through the little stands full of candy and toys and crafts and listening to the strange and rigid sounds of the people coursing through the square. I felt like an outsider. I was amazed by the sights but I couldn’t be a part of them. Even the simple act of ordering a beverage seemed a monumental and potentially embarrassing task.

 

An older gentlemen must have noticed me staring into the depths of a stand selling bratwurst and mulled wine with a pained look on my face because he approached me and asked in English if needed help. I remember an immense feeling of relief at hearing another person speak my native language, and he must have seen it because a smile crossed his face. I explained that I had been in the country for eighteen hours with nothing to eat. Everything being sold at the stands looked delicious but I was too apprehensive to ask for any of it because I didn’t speak any German.

 

Without another word he walked up to the stand and ordered a few items. When I tried to pay he waved me off and asked me instead to find a table we could share in the plaza. As we ate he explained a few German words to help me get around, told me what it was we were eating, and asked me about my travels. For the twenty or so minutes I spent with the man he told me about German customs, explained where I could find people who spoke English if there was an emergency, and recommended different parts of the city for me to visit. He also told me that when he was a student he had visited Greece and woman in Athens had shown him kindness by buying him a coffee and telling him how to get around. He told me not to worry. Everyone is a stranger at one point or another. His countrymen were human beings. They would understand.

 

When we finished he handed me a small, creased subway map, shook my hand and welcomed me to Germany. Then he turned and folded back into the crowd. It was a strange and comforting encounter. With my hunger abated and a renewed sense of determination I left Potsdamer Platz and headed into the city. The man’s small act of kindness was enough to make me feel welcome, and as I walked through the squares I reminded myself to keep an open mind and try to learn as much as possible.

 

The rest of my trip was remarkable. I quickly learned how to get around on the Metro, bought armloads of gifts for my friends and family back home, and visited places I had only previously seen on television and the internet. It may sound strange, but the kindness shown to me by the man at the market gave me the confidence to try, and without that it would have been a very different trip.

 

That is what paying it forward it all about. One seemingly small gesture had changed the way I thought about Berlin in a profound way. It had changed my entire experience. The man at the market owed me nothing, but he remembered a time when he was young and in a new place and a stranger had offered him help.

 

What you may not realize is that these kinds of stories happen daily, and each new day is an opportunity. I encourage all of my readers to pay it forward this January. Find a way to make someone you don’t know believe that there are good people in the world, and maybe on day they will have the chance to prove it, too.

 

Because ISE loves to hear about and share in the accomplishments of our students, we are sponsoring a Pay it Forward contest of sorts. If you do something unique for a random stranger or if you think that we would love to hear about your Pay it Forward Weekend, visit the ISE twitter page and tell us about it. You could win a free piece of swag from the famous ISE Swag Bag. We cannot wait to hear your stories.

 

For more information about Pay it Forward Weekend, please click here.