What We’ve Been Up To Lately

In our other lives, the Exchange Mom and Exchange Dad are an environmental lawyer and a consultant working on climate change issues. In the past couple of months, we’ve been busy creating new websites for our business . . . as a staff of two with no outside employees, we’re the definition of “small company,” and so no, we don’t have an IT department.

(If you’re interested in what we do when not advising host families and exchange students, check out The Climatographers and The Climate Web.)

As the designated “website manager,” I had the honor and misfortune of being the web designer for our new sites. How has that gone, you ask?

Let’s just say that we’re not taught this stuff in law school or in exchange student coordinator training! It’s definitely not my skill set. It’s been exhausting, but a good learning experience (I think …). I do know a lot more than I did before but not enough to call myself truly knowledgeable. I know enough to be dangerous and I worry all the time about breaking our websites.

Now, I’m trying to manage our official business websites as well as The Exchange Mom, and our next step is thinking about what changes we would like to make to this site, which is long due for some sprucing up. I hope to be able to turn to that soon.

What would YOU like to see? How can this site be more useful to you as a host parent, potential host parent, parent of an exchange student, or a student yourself? Please contact us with your thoughts, either by commenting below or sending us an email.

Changing People’s Minds One Person at a Time

Just some beginning of the week thoughts …
The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program is an exchange program managed and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. I wanted to mention this short post from a young woman who spent Summer 2017 in South Korea through the NSLI-Y program. As she says:
“With every moment in which someone didn’t understand something about me or wanted to know something about my background, I was given the opportunity to change an individual’s perspective on the world.”
Yup, that is what exchange is all about.

Discovering Something New: What Exchange is All About

Oregon Star Party campground

I’ve been hosting exchange students for over 20 years, and I’ve shared with many of them my passion for astronomy. My wife and I even tried to find the perfect student with whom to share the 2017 eclipse by choosing a student who specifically said she was interested in astronomy, though we were defeated in that plan by an inconvenient school boundary change.

This year, we didn’t focus on specific interest areas and instead picked a student based on other criteria. Even so, we offered her the opportunity to come with us to the Oregon Star Party (OSP) which was taking place shortly after her planned arrival in August. The OSP is one of the premier dark-sky observing events in North America. It takes place in central Oregon, far from any city’s bright lights, and attracts some 500-700 people each year. Our new student agreed, and we brought Malina to the U.S. a couple of weeks early to enable her to attend.

She arrived a week prior to the Star Party. We took her out for a quick observing party with friends, where she got her first look through a telescope — her first look ever.

She loved it.

At OSP, conditions were tough, as we experienced our hottest daytime temperatures in the history of the event, as well as smoke which marred the clarity of the night skies. Malina persevered, and familiarized herself with the night sky, the operation of the scope, and the use of charts with impressive speed.

The OSP offers awards for observers who record at least 20 of 25 suggested objects on a list. Malina took a look at the 2017 list and knocked out the first 10 objects the first night. Before the end of the Star Party, she’d earned her pins for the 2017 and 2018 lists.

I am convinced that she’s found a lifelong pursuit and that this exchange year has already changed her life. I am yet again reminded that this is what exchange is all about. By sharing our lives and our families and our interests with these kids, we alter the course of their lives for the better . . . what an honor and a privilege it is!

Lars D. H. Hedbor is an amateur historian, home brewer, astronomer, fiddler, linguist, and baker. His fascination with the central question of how the populace of the American Colonies made the transition from being subjects of the Crown to citizens of the Republic drives him to tell the stories of those people, in the pages of his Tales From a Revolution novels. Hedbor lives in Beaverton, Oregon, with his wife, Jennifer Mendenhall, and four of their six daughters. Lars and Jenn are exchange student coordinators for EF High School Exchange Year. Lars’ previous post for The Exchange Mom was An Exchange Student Wedding in 2016.

Photo credit: Lars D.H. Hedbor


Life Lessons You’ll Learn From Hosting Exchange Students

teenaged boys sitting on wall laughing

By Guest Author Sophia Jones Now may be a great time to consider becoming a host family for an exchange student. An Institute of International Education report stated that the number of international students in U.S. high schools tripled from 2004 to 2016, and more are set to arrive. Many of these students hope to continue their education at American colleges. Opening your home to foreign students can be a profound experience. You are not just tasked with looking after someone else’s child; you’re also in charge of introducing them to your culture. Here are a number of important lessons to gain from hosting an exchange student.

You’ll discover different cultures

Hosting an exchange student is a unique way of learning a new culture without resorting to travel. You’ll learn about your foreign student’s traditions, beliefs, cultural traits, and maybe even learn something new in the kitchen while they stay with you. The exchange program could also help you appreciate things about your own culture. For instance, Beth Markley’s hosting experience taught her that what we consider normal school activities like proms and homecomings are unknown in other parts of the world. Cultural interaction is one way to deepen your understanding of the importance of cultural diversity. Experiences like hosting an exchange student can help break prejudices by helping you realize that apart from your similarities, your differences are also a cause for celebration.

You’ll develop your communication skills

The language barrier is one of the common challenges host families and students face, and can vary in difficulty depending on your exchange student’s country of origin. However, this provides an opportunity for you to practice a new language with a native speaker. More importantly, through communication, you’ll learn how to establish a relationship with someone who has different customs, beliefs, and behavior. Participating in an exchange program may prepare you for more opportunities. See, for example, Maryville University’s program in organizational leadership, in which communication is mentioned as a key skill in learning how to effectively manage a variety of groups and bring about change. This type of leadership can be applied to many areas of work, from healthcare to business and beyond. Working with an exchange program can help prepare you for leadership positions in a number of careers. The Exchange Mom blog has previously noted the importance of communication  — not just in dealing with exchange students, but also in sharing information with your program coordinators. Open communication lets program representatives address any issues a family or an exchange student may have and help you and your student have a smoother hosting experience.

You’ll learn to appreciate mundane things more

Because of your household’s newest member, you’ll view your daily routine from a fresh perspective. The exchange student may ask you questions about how you get to work or why you watch a certain TV program. These questions help them understand the “daily grind” in America and how different ordinary life is from their own life back home. Their fascination with the smallest things we do may help you appreciate your life even more. In addition, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to grow as a family. As the host, it’s your responsibility to help the exchange student discover your country. This doesn’t mean you have to engage in major travel plans — but you will find yourself  encouraged to do more family activities, such as going on road trips or attending community events. These moments could strengthen your ties not just with the exchange student, but with your own family as well. One key thing to note is that many programs and many host families recommend not treating your exchange students as guests. This means that they should not be exempt from household rules. Don’t hesitate to assign them chores or send them to the grocery store. This will help them settle into their new surroundings and provide them with typical teenage life lessons.   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ If you’re all set after reading Sophia’s post, consider getting in touch with us here at the Exchange Mom. We can direct you to a coordinator in your area, or help with the screening process and help you find the right exchange student for your family. Image courtesy Pexels.com

Small Talk and the American Mind

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

I thought our readers might like to take a look at the attached short article. It has some good ideas to help new exchange students (who often think Americans are Just Plain Weird because of all the “small talk” we do). Students can ask host families some of these questions, and host families can help start conversations with their students with these topics, too.

48 Questions That’ll Make Awkward Small Talk So Much Easier

two people chatting in coffee shop