Sending Your Child Off This Summer for a High School Exchange Year? Here Are Six Tips For Parents

1. Take the Opportunity to Learn About Your Son or Daughter’s Destination

* Read a book or two about the country where your son or daughter will be living.  Research the region – the eastern part of the country may be very different from the west, or the north or south.  Try to find out something about differences between rural and urban areas. (See this blog post for a little bit about what I learned about Ghana when our son left for his one semester exchange.)

* Ask your son or daughter’s host parents for some advice on how to learn more.  Do they have a particular book they recommend?  What about a magazine or newspaper you could read online?

* Are there specific laws that are different from those in your country that your child needs to know about?  The exchange program will give you some information on this, but don’t hesitate to ask.  For students coming to the U.S., for example, it’s important to understand that they cannot legally drink alcohol – anywhere, with anyone, at any time whatsoever – until they reach the age of 21.

* Look online for student blogs about living in the country where your son or daughter will be, both past and present.  Find out if your exchange program has previous students who might be ‘on call’ for information.  Ask your student’s local coordinator/liaison if there are previous students from the region or even perhaps the same school who your son or daughter could get in touch with.

* Research the issue of safety.  Don’t just rely on the mass media – television and cable news stories may not give you thorough or balanced information about a particular political situation, natural disaster, or other safety issue at your child’s destination.  Remind your child that he is responsible for following his host family’s and the program’s rules, and that these rules are for his safety.

2.  What to Take?

* With current international baggage restrictions, most exchange programs advise students to stick to one suitcase and one carry-on.  Your child will, no doubt, add to his belongings during the year!  It may well make sense for your child to buy winter clothing after he/she arrives.  In some cases, your child might be able to borrow a coat from his or her host family.

* Be prepared for the need to ship items back home at the end of the exchange year, or else have your child buy an inexpensive suitcase and pay the baggage fee for an extra piece of luggage.

* Specific suggestions to think about include:

  • English dictionary or electronic translator – small pocket version that the student can carry in purse or pocket.
  • Camera!  I’ve never met an exchange student who doesn’t love to take photos.
  • Laptop computer – more and more students bring this with them.  Please remind your student that their host family may have family rules on computer use.
  • Prescription medicines — If your child has prescription medicines that he or she takes on a regular basis (such as asthma or acne medicine), it is best to bring enough for the whole year.  Ask your child’s host parents or the program representative about non-prescription medicines; in many places, it is probably simpler and easier for your child or his host parents to buy such items when needed, rather than having your child bring things like aspirin or first-aid cream, with her.

Tell your child’s host family about any medications your son or daughter is taking; remember that teens may forget, and such information is critical for the host family to help keep your child safe.  In an emergency, they will need to know if their student is already taking any medication before new ones can be added safely.

  • If your student wears glasses, send along an extra pair.
  • Mobile phones – Generally speaking, do not buy your child a phone before they travel.  In most locations, the simplest option is for your child to buy an inexpensive phone upon arrival, and buy a pay-as-you-go plan with a local phone number.  Most such plans include texting options.  Students generally cannot sign contracts or sign up for long-term plans.  Your son or daugher’s host parents may also have a low-cost phone option they are planning to take advantage of for your child.
  • Clothing – Will your child be required to wear a uniform, or a particular style of clothing?  In the U.S., for example, most public schools allow students to wear ordinary street clothes such as blue jeans, T-shirts, and sweatshirts to school; however, there are limits on the kind of clothing that may be worn.  Make sure your child has at least one nice outfit for special occasions.  Note that the clothing your daughter may be accustomed to wearing may not be considered appropriate in an American school.

3. Financial Issues

* Try to get your son or daughter started on a budget even before he or she leaves.  Give your child a set amount of money, tell him or her it’s for the entire month, and give some guidelines.  Teach your child how to take money out of the ATM a bit at a time, so that he doesn’t have too much cash.  Suggest a schedule (perhaps taking cash out once/week, and trying to live on that for the entire week).  Try not to interfere while she is learning how to manage a budget (at least, don’t get mad!).  It’s a learning experience for you, too.

* Talk to your child about budgets and finances before he or she leaves.  What kind of expenses can you foresee now? Does your exchange program have recommendations on an average amount of expenses to expect per month?

* Get a pre-paid card that can be used much like a credit card as long as you have put money in the account; best is to have it be through Visa or Mastercard.  Make sure the card can be used at an ATM.   Test it out before your child leaves to make sure it works.

* Ask your child’s host parents if there are particular expenses they expect your child to have.  Does the school charge fees if your son or daughter chooses to play a sport?  When would that need to be paid?  Are there fees for any textbooks, or are they loaned for free?

* Think ahead of time about the possibility of your child traveling during his/her exchange year.  There may be opportunities to travel with her host family, on a school trip, or on a trip organized by the exchange program.  You may not be able to find out about all these possibilities ahead of time, but you can ask the program what might be likely.  You should think about what your family’s financial limits are so that you will be more prepared when the question of travel comes up.  How much are you prepared to spend over and beyond the exchange program fees? Ask the program where your child will stay if he/she cannot travel with the host family.

4. Communicating During the Exchange

* Keeping in touch with your child is important; it’s also important to remember that your child will need to be focusing on his or her new life, and immersing himself into his host family’s activities, his new school, and making new friends.  The hardest part of being the parents back home is figuring out the right communications balance. (See my January blog post for a bit about our nervousness when our son left home for his one semester exchange program to Ghana.)

* A good plan might be to suggest talking to your child no more than once/week, generally on weekends, for no more than 30 minutes to an hour – and force yourself to stick to this.  For some families, even every other week will be enough to know what is going on in your child’s life.  Remember that in between these times, you can email your child – and she can email you, too, sometimes.  Try not to text or call your son or daughter more than this – the less often, the better.  We know it’s hard – and as a parent who has sent her own son abroad, I can speak to this!  But it’s important to let your child find his or her own life, and it’s critical to their success that you step back.

* Blogs are an inexpensive way to keep in touch – suggest to your child that she write a blog about her exchange adventures.  You – and friends and other family members – can easily follow along.

5. Visiting Your Child During the Exchange

Many families look forward to a child’s exchange year almost as much as the student.  We know we did! We looked forward to the idea of visiting Ghana ourselves, regardless of whether our son would be able to join on our travels around the country or not (he joined us for 4 days out of the two weeks we were in the country).  You, too, may want to visit your child during the exchange semester or year.

* Take a deep breath, and remember it’s your child’s experience.  If you do visit – and it certainly is an opportunity for your own family to travel to a place you might never otherwise have thought about visiting – do it within the exchange program’s rules; most programs ask that family and friends wait until the end of the exchange period, when your visit is not likely to interfere with your child’s adjustment or host family life.

* Do not visit during any key holidays in the host country.  In the U.S., this would include Thanksgiving, the last two weeks of December, and Easter.  Find out what the key holidays are in your child’s host country, and avoid those dates; remember that these are times for your child to spend with her host family and local friends.

* Do not visit at any times your child’s host family has major family activities or travel plans.

* Try not to visit when school is in session.  Your child is expected to attend school and to pass all classes.  It can complicate his or her experience if you want to take your student out of school.  It could also affect your child’s relationship with her host family, and could negatively affect the exchange program’s relationship with the school.

* Show thanks to your child’s host family by bringing a small gift, or perhaps taking them out to dinner.  Stay in a hotel rather than asking if you can stay with them.

6.  Letting Go

One of the hardest lessons for parents of exchange students, in my experience, is that you are no longer in control of your child’s life.  You often do not know what your child is doing on a daily basis anymore, and you do not know your son or daughter’s friends.  You cannot change this; indeed, it can be harmful to your child’s experience if you try.  The exchange students who have the most adjustment problems tend to be the ones whose parents insist on calling or texting every day, the ones whose parents try to convince the host parents to do things the way their child is using to doing things, and the ones whose parents tell their child, when the teen complains about a particular host family habit or rules, that “you don’t have to put up with that, I’ll take care of that today!”  Help your student have a good exchange year; don’t do these things!

* If your teen tells you “I don’t like my host family because XXXX” or “My host family won’t let me go out with my friends,” or any other complaint – don’t offer to solve the problem.  Encourage your child to figure out ways to solve the problem themselves.  Have they talked to their host parents about why a particular rule exists? Have they asked their local coordinator/liaison if this particular rule is normal for teens in the host country?  If it is considered normal in the host country, guide your child towards acceptance.

* Don’t expect to hear from your student every day while he or she is abroad, and don’t make your student feel bad for not being in daily touch.  Don’t call or text more than once/week, or even less.

* Talk with parents whose children have studied abroad, as well as parents whose children are currently in your child’s program.  How have they dealt with various situations that have come up?

Finally …..

In closing – As you prepare to send your child to a far-away place for 5 or 10 months, don’t downplay your own feelings.   It’s hard to send your child off to places they’ve never been before.  It’s hard to watch your teen stride through the airport security, give you a final wave, and trot off to the gate (and of course, they don’t look back at their worried parents!).  Remember – good things and positive experiences don’t always come easy.  Your teen will come through this experience a better and more mature person; perhaps you, too, can learn something new.

“Exchange is not a Year in a Life, but a Life in a Year” — The Year Ends, and the Life Begins

There is a saying in the international exchange community, “exchange is not a year in one’s life, but a life in a year.”  Between late May through the end of June, the students who have been on their exchange for a semester or for a full academic year are beginning to return to their home countries – their “life in a year” is ending.  I hope they, their host families, and their families back home can see, now that they are packing up their belongings and saying their goodbyes, that the saying is more than just words.

The students go home not only more mature after having lived for so long without the cushion of family and long-time friends, but also with a better understanding of what our country is all about, and perhaps a better idea of what the world is all about.  They know better now than to believe that everyone lives the American life they see on TV.  There is, also, more to it than that, for both students and host families.

Two of my students, Megan (Hong Kong) and Patrick (Switzerland), upon arrival in the U.S. August 2012
Two of my students, Megan (Hong Kong) and Patrick (Switzerland), upon arrival in the U.S. August 2012

The purpose of high school exchange educational and cultural programs is to “support personal growth, lead to a deeper understanding about foreign cultures and improve international relationships.” As I write this, 13 of my 14 students from this academic year are packing their bags to leave the U.S. and return home to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain, and Hong Kong.  My 14th student went home early due to illness, but that does not diminish her exchange experience.  She is still a part of this group – a group that has succeeded in what the U.S. government intends with the J-1 visa high school cultural exchange program: learn what life is like for U.S. teens, adapt to lifestyles and a culture different from their own, attend school and become a part of their U.S. school community, try new “American” things (food, sports, classes, etc.), and develop relationships with Americans that will continue after they return home.  Host families have learned a bit more about the country of their students, and have gained a connection they will not lose; for many, they now consider that they have a new “son” or “daughter.”

Matilde (Italy) and Sara (Sweden) -- June 2013
Matilde (Italy) and Sara (Sweden) — June 2013

The year has not always been easy; it would be foolish for any academic international exchange program to promise either a student or a host family that bringing someone new into the family – someone who has no idea how you live or how school is run in this country – is going to be a piece of cake. Having a five- or ten-month vacation is not the point of the program.

For some, the transition has not been difficult.  For others, there have been bumps along the way. Some of the students and host families have struggled through difficult times together.  Several students had a hard time adjusting to life without their close friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, and their comfortable “normal” life; but they muddled through, as people do.  Some families struggled with issues that happen to families (a teen rejects mom to go live with dad; a host grandparent falls ill); their students lived through those issues with them.  The world, too, interfered with life, bringing to us this year on one side of the coin the re-election of President Barack Obama and, sadly, on the other side of the coin such events as the Newtown tragedy and the recent tornados in Oklahoma, and more.  We have had some personal scary moments — a concussion for one preventing him from playing football for a while in the Fall and an even scarier emergency flight to the hospital by helicopter for another student this Spring after a rugby injury (which, fortunately, was not as serious as it first seemed).  There have been some sad, painful times – unsolvable problems in a host family for one student requiring a move to a new family, and for one, a serious long-term illness that required her to return home in January, cutting short her exchange year.

But they have all learned.  So have their host families, as well as the students, teachers, and others (myself included) whose lives have intersected with theirs. The world is a slightly smaller — and yet larger – place.  That, indeed, is exactly the point.

Did You Know There Are Multiple Kinds of Visas for Exchange Students?

Recently, a woman approached me expressing an interest in hosting an exchange student in her family.  She had first asked the school near where she lived if they had exchange students she could host, and the school referred her to me.  She didn’t understand why I was involved; she seemed to think I worked for the school.  She mentioned that she did not want to have to drive her student miles away to another school when the local high school was nearby and her own daughter attended that school; she seemed surprised when I told her that her exchange student would be required to attend the local school.  It became clear that we were talking about two different things.  She was thinking of students who come to the U.S. on what an F-1 visa, rather than the J-1 visa that most high school exchange students coming to the U.S. have obtained.

Visa issues are not something families in the U.S. normally think about when deciding whether to host an international high school exchange student.  It may not be something students’ parents give much thought to, either, as they may be more concerned with where their child will end up living and what kind of school will they attend. It’s actually quite relevant to families on both ends of the exchange process.  Host families in the U.S. should learn that the difference in visas will affect expectations of them as a host family as well as their experience in cultural exchange; the student’s family needs to know that  the difference in visas will affect the nature of their child’s living experience as well as where their child will live and go to school. The visa a student travels on is likely to result in very different answers to these questions.  So what is the difference between the J-1 visa and the F-1 visa?

J-1 Visas

J-1 visas are the more common way to participate in a high-school exchange program.  Students must be between the ages of 15 and 18 when the program begins.  The J-1 visa exchange program is regulated and overseen by the U.S. Department of State.  Students must go through an approved exchange organization (for a list of organizations, see the this list at the website of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel); in other words, a student cannot just submit an application to the government for a J-1 visa and go live with a relative or friend for a year.  Indeed, under the J-1 visa program students may not live with a relative at all. The student pays the organization a fee for its placement and oversight services.  J-1 students generally (but not always) attend public high schools and do not pay tuition unless they do attend a private high school. A student may study on a J-1 visa for up to one year.

Students do not choose their school under J-1 programs; they attend whichever high school any children in their host family do or would attend.  Most of the time J-1 students do not choose their host family; if a student does have a particular family he or she would like to live with (e.g., a friend of the family), the student and the host family must still comply with all relevant selection criteria (and there must also be an opening at the local school).

J-1 students may not work except for occasional odd jobs such as babysitting or yard work. They must also demonstrate that their command of English is good enough to allow them to take classes in a U.S. English-speaking high school.  Host families cannot be paid under the J-1 visa program; it’s intended to be a volunteer and cultural experience, with the intended purpose of building mutual understanding, friendship, and goodwill among nations.  However, host families can deduct up to $50/month as a charitable contribution on their U.S. tax returns.

A key feature of the J-1 programs is that the exchange organization in question is responsible for all aspects of a student’s stay in the United States.  Thus, the organization finds an appropriate host family for the student and is responsible for ensuring that host families go through the designated Department of State screening process.  The organization is responsible for ensuring that the local high school will accept the student, and for obtaining enrollment documents.  The organization is responsible for oversight, supervision, and program support during the entire exchange period, and for reporting back to a student’s parents as necessary.  If it is necessary to find a student a new host family while he/she is here in the U.S., it is the organization’s responsibility to do that.  If a student has problems or illness significant enough to make it difficult or impossible to complete the exchange year, the organization ensures that the student gets home safely and quickly.

F-1 visas

F-1 visas are primarily seen at the college level, but they are sometimes used by high-school aged exchange students.  F-1 visas are managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of State; they are educational visas, but they are not part of an overall diplomatic policy as are the J-1 visas which have a strong mission of exchange of cultural information and experience.

With an F-1 visa, a student chooses the U.S. high school he or she would like to attend, and must apply to – and be accepted by – the school.  The school must be certified through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program and be part of the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which requires a fee.  Usually these schools are private schools, and the foreign student would be required to pay the specified tuition unless the school chooses to waive tuition.  In some regions of the U.S., public schools do participate in the SEVIS F-1 program.  If a student chooses to attend a public school that is part of the program, they generally must pay tuition as determined by the state where the school is located.

The student’s sponsor is the school (as opposed to J-1 visa students, where the nonprofit exchange organization is the sponsor).  In exchange for getting a tuition paying student, the school is responsible for the student and for recruiting a host family. The student can also recruit his or her own host family.  There is no required element of cultural exchange, and students are often more akin to a guest or a renter than a member of the family.  Host families are sometimes paid a stipend of a few hundred dollars a month.  There is no ongoing supervision, counseling, or problem-solving unless the school itself provides such support.  Students on an F-1 visa are limited to 12 months of study at a public school; the length of study is not limited for private schools and students often attend the school for more than one year.

Deciding what is right for you

All potential participants in the international exchange process should think about what it is they wish to gain from the experience.  Many U.S. schools have in fact gone through this thought process, which is why most U.S. public schools do not admit F-1 visa students; they don’t want to pay fees to be part of a program that does not include oversight, student supervision, and host family advice.  Students’ families should give thought to the pros and cons, since the type of visa will determine the nature of the teen’s experience in the U.S.  Finally, host families would be advised to think about the visa differences and the implications for ongoing support if they are approached by a school or exchange program and asked if they are interested in hosting a student.  The family should ask what kind of advice and support there will be – for both the family and student – should there be difficulties in adjustment or problems that are too difficult to resolve.

At the end of the day, be prepared, not surprised!

Africa, the U.S., and High School Cultural Exchange Programs – What’s Missing?

Visiting my son Marcus during his six months in Ghana (part of his gap year between high school and college), has been an eye-opening experience, one that has raised fundamental questions about where we stand when it comes to achieving the goals of exchange programs aimed at young adults like Marcus. When it comes to Africa in particular, are we successfully understanding each other better through youth exchanges? It’s hard to answer that question when the exchanges are not really happening.

That there is a lot to learn is obvious through even the simplest of conversations with my son after almost five months in Accra, the capital of the West African, English-speaking country of Ghana. Ghana is an up-and-coming African country according to frequent news stories. Indeed, the day Marcus left for Ghana in January, the New York Times published an article listing Accra as #4 on its list of the “46 places to visit” in 2013.

Accra has little in common with the experience of 99% of Americans:

• Walking out of any of our walled and razor-wired hotel compounds into the neighboring community is an amazing contradiction in terms.  In an instant, one moves from air conditioning (most of the time), consistent Internet (more or less), real toilets (assuming the electricity is on or the generators are running), and hot showers, to unpaved roads with open sewers along the side of the “street,” people living on $1-$2/day, and few lights at night.
• Drive just a few miles across town, and you will find areas of Accra clearly reserved for the elite (diplomats, affluent ex-pats, senior ministers, international agency officials, banking representatives, etc.). A May 21st BBC video extols construction of luxury apartments such as the Villaggio as evidence of the growing Ghanaian middle class. Middle class, really? The Villaggio apartments rent for $4000-5000/month. The ability to pay such rents is far removed from the “burgeoning middle class” the enthusiastic BBC reporter seems to envision.
• Talk to Marcus and one hears of his discussions with the elementary school children he’s tutoring and supervising as a volunteer in an after-school program, including the apparently common belief that U.S. President Obama is an evil man. They refute Marcus’s arguments to the contrary, saying they have seen the evidence on a DVD video, and so it must be true.
• Talk to our tour guide here in Ghana, and you would learn that most Ghanaians believe that ALL Americans are rich. Given the tourists they see, and the TV shows to which they have access, it’s not hard to see how they reach that conclusion, no matter how misinformed.

The need for improved cross-cultural understanding is obvious. High-school exchange programs are one obvious key link, as are similar university level programs. How many Ghanaians’ opinions about the U.S. has Marcus influenced during his five months in Ghana, simply by being himself, one individual “citizen diplomat”? The reverse is equally critical; from conversations with Marcus, it’s obvious that he has gone through some significant changes in his understanding of world issues such as poverty and economic development. In a recent college essay Marcus indicated that he’d like to use his own college education to come back to Ghana in the future and help Ghanaians finance successful businesses. That’s not the same 18-year-old who left the U.S. in early January.

So where do we stand when it comes to high school exchanges with Ghana and the rest of Africa? Well, nowhere actually. Yes, some students from Africa come to the U.S. every year; using Ghana as an example, the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) reports that during the 2012-2013 academic year about 49 high-school age students from Ghana (PDF file) spent a semester or academic year in the U.S. The numbers from other African countries are equally low: Kenya, 18; Nigeria, 20; Senegal, 13 – you get the picture. Germany, by comparison, sent more than 6,500 students to the U.S. during the same period, and China more than 4,000. Is the need for improved cultural understanding between Germany and the United States 120 times as large as it is for Ghana? I think not.

The same is true in reverse, when one looks at U.S. students choosing to study abroad through an approved youth exchange program for a semester or academic year, although there is an interesting twist – while the numbers for American students going to Africa are very low, the numbers of American students going anywhere at all is not much better. During 2012-2013, 12 students from the U.S. went to Ghana on a youth exchange program (high school level). It’s a start perhaps, and Marcus and his fellow exchange students here in Ghana have clearly gained a huge understanding of what life is like for ordinary Ghanaians as well as now seeing with their own eyes what it means to live in Africa (even in a so-call “booming” economy). Unfortunately, those 12 in Ghana constitute most of the U.S. high school students in Africa; most other African countries have none, or perhaps one. Compare the 12 in Ghana to the 276 high school students from the U.S. who during the same period chose to study in Germany, or the 36 who went to China. Sad numbers indeed when looked at from the standpoint of the levels of misunderstanding about the United States that prevail around the world.

This post is not the place to talk about all the reasons why American high school students do not study abroad in the way that European, Asian, and some South American students do. I could write pages on the likely reasons: inability to speak foreign languages, cultural indifference stemming at least partially from the geography of a large country with few international borders, the culture of high school in the U.S. which frowns upon giving credit for foreign study, and high school guidance counselors’ lack of knowledge about, and antipathy toward, gap year programs between high school and college. There is simply no question that a large fraction of U.S. high school students would benefit from taking a year off before starting college. If even a small fraction of them went abroad, it would expand the existing pool of American high school ambassadors by orders of magnitude.

Somewhere, somehow, we need a “call to arms” to encourage more students to do what Marcus and his fellow exchange students here in Ghana have done, as well as finding a way to bring more students from Ghana and other African countries to the U.S. It won’t by itself solve the fundamental problems facing Africa, from water and sanitation to economic growth, or by itself change global perceptions of the United States. But it would help create a generation of young Americans and young Africans that would care about working to find solutions to these challenges.

Heading for Ghana

This Sunday, my husband and I are heading to Ghana for two weeks.  Our younger son, who is 18, is taking a gap year before heading to college at the University of Oregon this Fall.  As part of that, he is spending six months in Ghana on an exchange program.  He is doing a community service volunteer program as a teacher’s assistant in an after-school program, and is living with a host family.  Of course, we have planned to visit since the day he left!

I’m beginning to understand how my students feel as the date for their departure to the U.S. approaches.  Oh, I’ve always understood intellectually … but I’m beginning to understand it in my heart.  It’s just for two weeks, so I know we don’t have the same anticipation and anxiety that my teenaged students faces each year as they get ready to come to the U.S. for 5 or 10 months.

But on a very basic level, it’s really the same. I’m traveling to a place I’ve never been, a place that is so different from my suburban/urban life as to defy translation. I will suddenly be noticeable – a white American in black Africa.  The culture will be different, the weather will be different, the food will be different.

And I’m psyched.  Nervous, a bit anxious, but excited and psyched.

Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana
Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana

We start in Accra, Ghana’s largest city.   Accra has a lot to offer — the New York Times named it #4 on its list of place to go in 2013.  We might as well check it out! 

After a couple of days in Accra, we will head out to Tamale, a large city in Ghana’s northern region.  From there, given our graduate work in the study of the international wildlife trade and our lifetime work on environmental issues, it won’t surprise many readers that we insist on spending some time in Ghana’s Mole National Park.  As the Lonely Planet says:

It’s not everywhere you can get up close and personal with bus-sized elephants. Face-to-face encounters with these beasts, plus roving gangs of baboons, warthogs, water bucks and antelopes – 90 species of mammals in total – are possibilities at this national park, Ghana’s largest at 4660 sq km and best as far as wildlife viewing goes.

From Mole, we will drive to Kumasi, in the Ashanti region, home of the fabled Ashanti Kingdom.  We will stay in the center of Kumasi, a city that is considered the cultural “heart” of Ghana due to its history.  It contains places such the Manhyia Palace, which was the residence of the Ashanti kings.

Manhyia Palace, Kumasi (Source: Wikipedia)
Manhyia Palace, Kumasi (Source: Wikipedia)

We will now be halfway through our two-week trip.  We will visit some Ashanti towns and villages, learning about the weaving of kente cloth in the village of Bonwire; the cloth printing technique called Adinkra stamping in the village of Ntonsu; and wood carving in the town of Ahwia.

On the 27th, we’ll head back to Accra, and then we’re off for a few days for a coastal trip, where we will visit Ghana’s famous (and infamous…) Cape Coast and one or more of the many castles formerly used in the slave trade.

Elmina Castle, Cape Coast
Elmina Castle, Cape Coast (Source: Wikipedia)

Beyond all this amazing history, we have several personal places to visit on this trip.  Our tour guide, when he is not arranging trips like ours so full of history it’s mind-boggling, also works with Framework International, a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon, which is building schools in Ghana.  A group of Linfield College graduates founded Framework; they took an idea that started on a college trip to Africa and ran with it.  My husband and I connected with Framework through a colleague in the environmental field, who is working with Framework on business development. So of course when we are in Ghana, we will visit one of Framework’s schools.

Finally, we will visit our son and his host family.  This is a new experience for us.We have hosted about a dozen students over the past 10 years, and we have had a number of our students’ parents and families visit us towards the end of the exchange term.  But now we’re the “family back home,” coming to visit and throw ourselves into our child’s new culture. The Brown family in Accra have hosted our son since January, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for taking our son into their home and making him a part of their family.  As our own exchange students have become a part of our family forever so that we now have “children” around the world, we hope that Marcus has found a second home in Ghana which will forever be a part of him.  We are excited to be able to see a bit of the world where he has lived for the past five months.