Happy New Year to my Exchange Students

For the academic year 2012-2013, I am supervising 14 high school exchange students.  The number varies from year to year.  This year, my students are from Austria, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.  They’ve now been here five months – halfway through their exchange year. So far, as 2012 winds down, they have been able to:

* go with their host families to Hawaii, California, Arizona, Idaho, New York, Canada, and Mexico;

* see Seattle, Washington; Crater Lake, Oregon; and Disneyland, California.

* take classes not offered in their home countries such as Japanese, ceramics, psychology, cooking, and marketing;

*experience homecoming at their US high school;

* become fans of American college football teams such as the University of Oregon Ducks and Oregon State University Beavers, and learn how to dress like a fan;

* go to NBA Trailblazer basketball games and MLS Timbers soccer games;

* become athletes themselves and play rugby, football, soccer, volleyball, or be on the cheerleading squad;

* go skiing, scuba-diving, rock-climbing, and air ballooning;

* gone camping in the mountains, stayed in a yurt;

* have BBQs on Labor Day;

* go trick-or-treating on Halloween;

* eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving;

* help light the candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah;

* decorate their host families’ home and tree for Christmas.

This is kind of what it’s all about, isn’t it? Sharing experiences with young people from other countries and cultures.  Showing them that the United States is not just the Hollywood sign (although it is that, too).  Demonstrating that for all our differences, people from different countries and cultures still, in the end, like many of the same things.

Of course, there have also been tears, and trials and tribulations.  One student is now in a new host family; another broke her wrist over New Year’s while snowboarding.  Some have been homesick.  But they’re surviving, and surviving well.  My New Year’s wish tonight goes to them – here’s to 2013!

High school sports for exchange students: a right or a privilege?

Those of us who work with high school exchange students generally are in favor of our students playing  on their host school’s sports teams.  We talk it up before the students arrive and we talk it up when we first meet the kids in August.  We tell them what a great opportunity it is and how it will help them understand American high school “spirit,” make it easier to become part of high school life in American, and will help them make some friends at the beginning of the school year.

All very true statements!  I’m supervising a couple of exchange students this year who are on their school’s cheerleading team and who are thrilled to be able to do something that is so typically “American.”  My own student (the one we’re hosting) has been happily playing soccer and was tickled by the warm welcome he received by the players and the coaches.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details.  Participating in school sports is not automatic and there are many limitations for exchange students.  The rules vary from state to state.  But here’s a quick glance at a few rules from different states:

* If an exchange student has requested a specific host family (for example, because an older brother or sister lived with them, or the student’s parents know the host family), the exchange student may not be allowed to compete in a high school sport at his or her U.S. high school.  (They might be allowed to train and just not compete; it all depends on the state’s rules.)

* If the student has graduated from high school in his or her home country, many U.S. states will not allow the student to participate in high school sports.

* Some states do not let exchange students play at the varsity level at all.

* There usually are rules about what happens if a student transfers to another school during the school year or if they are attending a school outside the boundaries of where their family lives.  This can affect exchange students if they move to a different host family during the year, or if the school district has given permission for the student to attend another high school in the district where the host family lives.

* U.S. states often require that the exchange program be listed on the advisory list of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), the standard-setting organization for exchange programs.

If a student can’t play on their school’s official team, there often are city or other regional recreational teams that can be just as much fun (or even more fun, depending on whether a student is looking for the competitive aspect or just wants to play and meet people!).  So just something to know in advance, whether you are a student looking forward to playing sports at an American high school or whether you are a host parent trying to help your new student get settled in at school.