It’s a Girl! It’s a Boy! It’s an … Exchange Student?

If you’re at the Portland airport this Saturday (or dozens of other airports around the country), you might see some strange goings on. Of course, it’s not unusual for travelers to occasionally see welcome balloons, or families waiting expectantly with welcome signs. But at this time of year it’s a special scene, one that is being repeated hundreds of times between now and each week of August until school starts.

In some regions of the U.S., it’s already begun.  But for us here in Oregon and southern Washington, it’s pretty just getting underway: Saturday is Arrival Day for our first group of high school exchange students for the 2014-2015 year.

Shortly before noon Pacific time, and continuing through the afternoon, exhausted teens from countries around the world will begin to arrive at the Portland airport to start their academic year in the U.S.

Host families they have never met will be waiting for them. Some of these families have gone to great lengths to welcome these foreign teens — repainting bedrooms, re-arranging space in homes, making personal welcome signs. Their only communication to date may have been an email or two. Yet these strangers will meet with the kind of the enthusiasm usually reserved for immediate family members.

In a way these teens *are* members of the family. They’ll be here for up to 10 months. Mothers and fathers are making plans to register their new “sons” or “daughters” for classes at high school and figuring out sports and other extra-curricular schedules. They will worry when their “children” go out at night and, eventually, nag them to do their homework like parents around the world. Host brothers and sisters will take them around town, show them the local sights, introduce them to the American concept of front-seat rivalry known as “shotgun,” and squabble over who gets the last ice cream bar or brownie.

Lori Larsen photo

July 30, 2014 – Washington, USA

With the stroke of a pen (well, more likely, the clack of a few keystrokes), we exchange coordinators create new bonds. It’s a joy to watch, an awesome responsibility . . . and there’s a ton work yet to do. There’s a bit of an untraveled road to discover, and there may be some potholes along the way. But there’s fun and excitement in that road of discovery, and an unparalleled opportunity to share one’s life and culture. Let the fun begin!

welcome Lieke


Photos courtesy Kevin Sanders and Lori Larsen (July 2014)
 This blog post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at Go visit and learn about other blogs with international study and travel themes!
  • catch33er says:

    We are looking forward to our Mari arriving from Norway on Saturday, August 23, at 6:00 p.m. School starts Tuesday morning. Our coordinator indicated that the reason she’d arrive so close to school starting, and will need to leave immediately after school ends, was due to US visa requirements.

    From your post, and some other blogs we’ve read, it looks like some programs allow their students to arrive more than 2 days prior to school starting. Is this your experience?

    • Laura the Exchange Mom says:

      There certainly are visa restrictions and I can’t speak to the particular situation you face with your program, but yes, our students generally arrive with more time than that. Sometimes our students do arrive just a few days before school starts, but we try to avoid that as much as possible. We like to have them arrive with at least a couple of weeks’ lead time to give them time to adjust to their host family home and the neighborhood, as well as get over jet lag. Perhaps it has something to do with airline contracts (that does sometimes limit when students can arrive) or perhaps there is someone within the program who can give you more information.

  • Jenny says:

    Our program kids are arriving the same time as they always have but school keeps starting earlier each year. When my kids started in 1995 it was Sept 2nd, this year they start Aug 12th. We picked up our student last year on 8/9. He started football on 8/12 and school on 8/13. we didn’t have much time to show him around our city since he had to dive right into practice and homework. Our kids do have 4-5 weeks after school ends.

  • I always love seeing exchange students arriving at their new homes when I’m traveling through airports. Always so much excitement and anticipation in the air!

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up!

  • Neoshea Bergman says:

    How did you make your signs? I love them!

    • Laura the Exchange Mom says:

      Wish I could claim credit! One of my fellow coordinators did those signs a couple of years ago. Pretty neat, aren’t they!

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