Why Host an Exchange Student (or is Technology Enough?)

laptop phone book on table

This time of year, high school exchange student programs in the U.S. are seeking host families for the coming academic year. You may have seen posts on Facebook, read flyers in your local coffee shop, or visited an exchange organization’s booth at a local community event. Your thoughts might be “what a cool idea!,” or perhaps “why would anyone take a stranger into their home?”

In one of my regular telephone calls with a host parent the other day, the conversation turned to our students’ ever-increasing use of technology. She wasn’t quite sure their student this year had ever truly immersed himself into the local community and our local world. It’s harder than ever to separate the students from their home country, she commented. Once upon a time (really just a few short years ago) students rarely arrived with smartphones; now, it’s rare for them not to bring one. Once upon a time, they rarely brought  laptops; now, most of them do. Once upon a time, parents back home were content talking to their children on weekends; now, many text their teens every day.

Why host, indeed? Is there still any point to this idea of citizen diplomacy and this type of personal cultural exchange in a world where we’re always connected? With instant translation available on our phones, is learning a foreign language still relevant? Isn’t virtually visiting a foreign country through your computer just as good as being there? So does putting teens into the homes of American families for a full semester or school year still make sense?

Well … yes.

  • It’s about the look on our Italian student’s face a few years back when standing in line at a donut shop in Portland and a shop employee walked by offering a free donut to everyone waiting in line. “This. Is. America…!” he cried. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know … but it was certainly memorable.
  • It’s about coming around the curve on Highway 101 on the Oregon coast and seeing Haystack Rock loom up out of the surf and hearing the “oh wow” from the back seat from our somewhat-jaded-having-been-to-the-US-multiple-time German student. And yes, it really is a pretty cool sight … his comment reminded us that seeing your world through someone else’s eyes can re-awaken you to your own values.
  • It’s about a student excitedly talking about a weekend geology field trip he took with a few students from his class. “Excited” and “geology” are not usually terms one would use to describe a high school student’s activities. But you could hear it in his voice. It meant so much more to actually see what they had been reading about in class, he said. He talked about how they learned about how the flow of rivers had changed, and how much fun it was to take a ferry to an island.

Each of these is just a little thing by itself. But isn’t it the little things that makes the difference?

Beyond learning about another culture and how daily life might differ, these cultural exchanges challenge our assumptions about other cultures, teach communication skills, and help develop patience and flexibility. That sentence sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it? But all I need to do is look at our own experiences — and we’re just one family.

We’ve learned that what we thought we knew about Europe was just a slice off the top. Beneath the similarities lie fascinating differences between Nordic cultures in the North, Slovak cultures to the East, and Italy to the South. The slices we’ve learned about Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan are humbling; as educated persons, you think you know something, and then you learn you don’t. Living with a student from Hong Kong taught our own two children more than a book ever could about how a teenager from a Chinese culture approaches life, decision-making, and relationships. It helped them understand the family histories and family dynamics of their own second generation Asian-American friends, and it taught them tolerance much more effectively than us parents standing there saying “be nice, don’t judge.”

We’ve learned that when people think they’re clear in what they are saying, they’re not. We’ve learned to stop ourselves and ask “do you understand what I meant when I say XXX?” It’s not something we ever would have thought about doing before we started working with international students. And in reality, it helps you realize that the potential for miscommunication is huge even when you are talking to native English speakers.

silhouetted people facing away from each other with question marks in air

We’ve learned to be more patient and to not expect perfection overnight (if ever….!). We suggest to our students to read the local newspaper to learn about the local community. We take students in our home with us when we walk the dogs or run errands to get them talking, asking them about their family back home and what their school is like, one topic at a time, day after day. We ask them how their parents expect them to manage money and try to get a sense of their financial situation, one topic at a time. We try to get students who are nervous about speaking English to talk more, a little at a time. Success in the beginning may be a sentence or two.

We’ve learned more than we could have imagined when we started down this hosting and coordinating path about seeing other people’s viewpoints and recognizing other people’s realities.

Some things seem to be the same everywhere. Teens everywhere groan when asked to do their chores before they go out with friends and roll their eyes when asked to do something they don’t want to do. Parents the world over can recognize their children are not perfect. Adults the world over make mistakes in their relationships, and adults the world over are not always better than teenagers at accepting their mistakes and learning from them.

There is no such thing as a perfect person: no perfect student, no perfect teenager, no perfect host families, no perfect adults. It would be nice if we could wave a magic wand at the airport on Arrival Day and announce “congratulations, you now have a long-term forever relationship.” But that’s not real life, and it’s not really how we learn about each other. Having someone you have never met before live in your home for 6 or 10 months as a member of your family is rewarding — and yes, it can be hard work. That work leads to rewarding experiences, and this is what long-term relationships are built on.

I think (and I hope) that it all does still make sense. If our 21st century environment of constant contact, 24/7 online connection, and no-real-life-always-texting life takes over, I think we’re done for in more ways than one. I think cultural exchanges — including but not limited to hosting high school exchange students — offer benefits far beyond being “a good citizen.” The volunteerism component is important, yes …. but it goes beyond that. I hope that these experiences are still possible in today’s ever-connected, never-disconnect-from-home world. We’ll keep working at doing our small part to make it possible.

 

Images courtesy Ewan Robertson on Unsplash and Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.

 

Five Ways To Finance Your Study Abroad Experience Yourself

person with camera, focus is on camera in foreground

Today’s post is by guest writer Victoria Greene. Victoria is a freelance writer and branding expert; visit her site at Victoriaecommerce.com.

It’s no easy task taking up a new life abroad as an international student. You have to cope with things like homesickness and the culture shock of living in an entirely different country. Finances can also be a challenge, but you may have the option to self-finance and lighten the load.

If you are an adult going abroad, you may have the option of supporting yourself through casual work — but be sure to check the working visa rules for your host country. If you aren’t allowed to work due to your age or visa restrictions, it could be that the best option for you is to work in the year preceding your study abroad experience instead.

(This would also allow you to fully focus on your studies while abroad, and not get distracted by a part-time job.) Another option would be to start an online business back home that needs little day-to-day running and just keep things moving along while you’re away.

With that in mind, this post will present possible five options for financing your study abroad experience, regardless of your skill set and schedule.

Become A Tutor

If you’re studying abroad as a university student and if your visa allows it, you are in an excellent position to offer advice and guidance to other students looking for help with tutoring. Ask your professors if they have any tutoring positions available. Alternatively, you could look elsewhere and send your CV to other schools in your area. Think about conversation classes and book clubs to get you going for tutoring in your native language. Online tutoring is also an option to think about. You will need a webcam, mic, and headphones, as well as a reliable internet connection to help you get started.

You could also sell your other specialized skills by setting up an online video course, using  sites like iSpring. These platforms allow you to film your course and charge people to download your lesson plans. If you have skills in things like crafts or illustration, share them online!

Just make sure that your tutoring role and efforts don’t take away from your own studies. A more informal (and unpaid) language swap or skills exchange is also a great way to help others and make new friends at the same time; you might not be paid for this, but you won’t have to worry about visa requirements and you’ll certainly have some fun.

Sell Your Travel Photos

If you are handy with a DSLR camera, consider selling stock photography through a host site such as Shutterstock. Selling the licensed use of your photos for online articles and design work will give you the opportunity to pick up a small amount of passive income. Try to take interesting and unique photos that aren’t already well-represented. Photography is also a great way to get to know a place.

Think about representing abstract ideas within your photos. For example, ‘social media’ and ‘personal development’ are high-traffic search terms. Tagging your photos with a range of searchable hashtags will help make your photos more visible to internet users.

Make your photos high-quality, learn how to use photo editing software, and upload in large file formats. Once you have uploaded your travel snaps to a service, link them to your website or travel blog to help you gain more personal publicity.

Check any visa restrictions when it comes to selling online products during your time abroad, or set up a bunch of photos before you go to generate some passive income. You can always monetize your travel photos when you return home.

Become A Virtual Assistant

There are vast arrays of casual online positions for those who provide creative services such as copyediting, as well as administrative services like data entry. You can set up a profile for free on many freelancing sites and link them to an online portfolio or LinkedIn page. This will add legitimacy to your new online business.

Sites like UpWork allow you to bid for jobs and set up your own pricing structure to meet your needs. You can find many remote working contracts that can tie into your scheduling needs, regardless of how busy you are. You may be asked to appear for telephone or Skype conferences to meet the demands of certain projects. Therefore, you should ensure that you have a working phone abroad and a reliable internet connection.

Again, you need to make sure that your visa terms permit work like this, since many study abroad visas limit (or prohibit) the ability of students to work. Also, you don’t want to be too distracted by work demands. Virtual assistant work is a good option for short-term casual work over the summer months and can help you build up some extra money before you go on your study abroad program.

Become An Online Seller

This method of making money online requires a fair amount of initial research and may not be a practical option for younger students of high school age or early college years. However, once you are up-and-running with your online web store, the sky’s the limit in the amount you could earn on a monthly basis. This is the ideal financing method for anyone who loves spending time on Instagram and shopping online, and you can set your store on pretty much autopilot whilst you’re traveling.

Dropshipping is a convenient arrangement where an online seller can sell a third-party supplier’s products for no upfront costs. If you have no web development skills, don’t worry; you can easily create an online store. Use an e-commerce host with a good selection of features and templates, or use a free WordPress plugin to convert a blog into a store. Other options include Etsy or Amazon, which will ultimately be a lot less work for you.

The initial product research phase will help you find your target market. Check out competitors and create a branded image that draws in the right kind of customer to your sales pages.

You could place a small amount of daily budget on paid product promotion campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Adwords — but only do this if you’re already making money.

When you have started to make a profit from placing orders and advertising, look for ways you can gradually pull back from the admin tasks. Invest in automated apps and virtual assistants to help you run your store on a nearly passive basis.

Provide Odd Job Services

Doing odd jobs at home before you leave can be surprisingly lucrative, and once you are abroad (and if your visa allows it), you may be able to take on some odd jobs in your host country.

Look in your local community and find odd jobs you can do for a bit of extra cash in your spare time. You are never too old to do a bit of gardening or car washing for a neighbor in need! You can set up a profile on service sites such as Yelp or Angie’s List. Start collecting positive reviews from host families, friends, and contacts. You can also offer services like babysitting and dog walking through advertising in local newspapers. Alternatively, you can pin your contact card on a local community notice board to help you bring in your first few customers.

Carrying out odd jobs will help you explore your new locale and get a feel for the everyday culture of a place. Plus, you can help people in need and collect some good karma points along the way. Win-win!

You may find that informal work or volunteering for a charity or local group will allow you to still focus on your studies, and though you might not make any money, the experiences will make you a lot richer!

 

There you have it! Five ways to make money while studying abroad. These options maybe not be available for all students during their study abroad terms; for all of your income-generating activities, make sure you are following the rules of your visiting country. Pay close attention to your host nation’s tax obligations and employment laws for international students, too. You should be 100% clear on any visa restrictions well in advance of your journey so that you can plan and save effectively. Make sure to talk to someone who can help you decipher international visas in more detail.

 

Photo credit: The Digital Marketing Collaboration.

Thought for Today: Sharing is How You Make it Work

Tip of the day for host families and students…

Sharing about what’s going on in your life is a great way to begin to get to know each other. What can you share with each other about your day? It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering or jaw-dropping story … just the little things.

Did someone at work say something funny? Share it with your student, and talk about some American jokes.

Did someone at school say something that everyone laughed at and you didn’t understand? Ask your host family what it meant.

Is the family’s favorite TV show on tonight? Share with your student why you like it and have the whole family join in the discussion — then watch it together.

Did the cat do something funny? Talk about all the past times the cat has made the family laugh.

Do you have a dog at home? Talk about why you think your dog is the coolest ever. Why did your family choose him? Have you had other dogs?

See how easy it is? Get started today!

Image courtesy Peter Fischer

Sports as a Tool For International Youth Exchange

high school lacrosse players

Sports can be another great way to bridge gaps across cultures and to get people who may think they have nothing in common to start talking. So it is not a surprise that there are organizations around the world that do their best to bring young people from different countries together to meet over their favorite sport. The question arises, though, whether these organizations offer what you personally need from an exchange.

We sometimes get questions from people interested in working with exchange students through the medium of sports. In one case, an organization in Brazil contacted us, looking to find a way to send promising teen and pre-teen soccer athletes to the U.S. as exchange students to learn about the U.S. and to have an opportunity to play competitive soccer during a school year in the U.S. In another case, a small U.S. non-profit was hoping that exchange students from another country could participate in the organization’s program while studying here in the U.S. and obtain competitive level basketball training, with the possibility of being recruited for college-level play.

We also sometimes hear from parents. One email was from a father in Greece who had visited friends in Florida with his family. The friends offered to host his son so that he could go to high school in Florida and play varsity basketball at their school, and the father wanted advice on how to make that happen. Another email we received recently was from a parent in Germany. She wanted to make sure that her son would be able to play competitive soccer during his exchange year in the U.S. Should she just tell the exchange organization she wanted to go through? Should she herself search online for a family who had a teen who plays soccer, she wondered, or perhaps she should get in touch directly with high schools that have high-level soccer programs and then contact a sponsoring organization?

Great ideas. The devil, as always, is in the details. The answer we had to give these people was essentially that they could not do what they wanted to do.

What’s the Problem?

There is a great deal of concern in the U.S. about students “shopping” for schools for athletic reasons. That concern crosses over into the exchange student world, and it’s against U.S. government regulations to place an exchange student in a school specifically for the purpose of playing a particular sport. In fact, when a family finds its own host family for their student (what we call “direct placements”), those students generally cannot play sports at their school unless they get a waiver from the local high school athletics association certifying that the student was not placed at that school for sports reasons.

Many exchange students do engage in sports at their school or in their town. But there are no guarantees. An exchange student may not be able to qualify for a school team, particularly if the team is competitive; exchange students often have to try out for a team like everyone else. Some U.S. states limit exchange students to less competitive teams, keeping varsity team spots for American students who may be using their sports experience for a longer term purpose (such as trying to get a college scholarship, for example).

If an exchange student doesn’t qualify or can’t play varsity, or if he or she isn’t able to play on junior varsity for any reason, there often are local city leagues, recreational clubs, or even possibly a competitive club in the student’s desired sport. These options would be outside the school day, and would be at additional cost to the student and his or her family. It’s also important to note that these opportunities may or may not be at the competitive level the student is seeking.

What about the option of coming to the U.S. on an F-1 visa instead of a J-1 visa, since F-1 visa students apply directly to a school? We’ve been asked this question; parents have contacted us thinking that this is a way to make sure their child can play the sport of his or choice. However, because F-1 students choose the school they will attend, they generally are unable to play school sports. The concern about “shopping” for schools for athletic reasons still applies.

Are There Options?

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Diplomacy Division focuses on sports-related exchanges. These are short-term exchanges and are not intended as academic programs, so these programs are not a solution, for example, for semester or year-long exchange students. The Division’s projects include:

  • Sports Envoy Program: Sports Envoys are athletes or coaches who lead overseas sports programs on behalf of the U.S. They hold sports clinics, take part in community outreach, and engage youth in dialogues on the importance of leadership and respect for diversity. Read, for example, about Neftalie Williams, who has used his love of skateboarding and his participation in the U.S. Sports Envoy program to bring skateboarding to Syrian refugees in the Netherlands and to Cambodian youth as a representative of the U.S. government.
  • Sports Visitor Program: A short-term program for young people to come to the U.S. for a two-week intensive sports-based exchange.

Other programs managed by the Division include the Global Sports Mentoring Program for women, the Sports and Sustainability Initiative, and the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that if you are primarily interested in playing a particular sport at a competitive level, high school exchange programs are probably not the right vehicle for your student. But if you are primarily interested in the exchange experience — cultural and language immersion, growth in self-confidence, learning how to deal with new situations — then high school exchange may be the right answer, regardless of whether you can play a particular sport at a competitive level during the exchange. While on exchange, we always encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to engage in high school sports or other non-academic activities; it’s a great way to get to know other students at your school, and it can be a lot of fun. The experience is worthwhile!

It‘s hard to reach out to people of different cultures when you feel you have nothing in common. But bring out a soccer ball to a field, and kids who do not speak the same language will flock to it and play together without understanding a single word the other child says. As adults, the effects are the same. You don’t need a common language to forge friendships, just a shared love for a sport and respect for one another.

 –League Network, 6 Ways That a Shared Love for Sports Can Bring Cultures Together, February 2017.

 

Warm Wishes to All!

On this Christmas Day, we send warm wishes to all our readers and to all our students and host families, current and former. We think about all the ups and downs, and give thanks that we are able to contribute just a little bit to the “ups” part of it all! Most of all, we thank you all for the work you put into the “citizen diplomacy” project of cultural exchange.

May you all have a wonderful day with friends and family!