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 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!