Creating New Rooms in Your Heart
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.”
– Anthony Bourdain
Travel changes you. It expands your horizons. As you learn a new language, you create new neural pathways in your brain. As you learn about a new culture, you create new rooms in your heart.
One of the best ways for young people to travel is to take part in a student or cultural exchange program. These programs offer high school and college students the opportunity to study in another country, often living with a host family. The student is exposed to a different culture. Their understanding and tolerance of others increases; their social horizons are broadened.
It’s not just the student who benefits from the exchange. The host family is also exposed to another culture and often ends up learning just as much as their student.
We reached out to two host families with International Student Exchange (ISE). Jennifer is a substitute teacher, and she and her husband have four children, in addition to hosting students. Wayne and his wife Amy live in Decatur and are going to host another exchange student in the fall. We asked Jennifer and Wayne to tell us about the hosting experience.
Madeworthy: Did you have any background in hosting international students? Were you an exchange student yourself?
Wayne: Yes, my mom placed students when I was younger, and my family hosted around 12 or so students over the years… I previously hosted students from Mongolia, Norway, and Italy. I was never an exchange student, myself.
Jennifer: I didn’t grow up with any; however, my friend hosted a girl from Spain a few years ago, and that’s what got me interested in hosting. I have never been an exchange student.
MW: What was the most unexpected thing about hosting a student?
Wayne: Our student from Mongolia was a bit of a culture shock for us. She was from a very rural and not-so-modernized area of Mongolia, and everything was very big, very new, and very different for her. She went through a big learning curve after arriving here. She was a very sweet girl, and ultimately it turned out to be a great experience both for her and our family.
MW: Have you made plans to visit your student in their home country?
Wayne: Not yet, but we often talk about it. It’s on the bucket list.
MW: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from your student?
Jennifer: We have learned they are more structured and study harder than American kids. They understand the importance of an education, and they enjoy the American way of life.
MW: What would you say your students have gained from coming here to learn?
Wayne: They may give different answers if they were asked, but for me, I believe the students have learned that they can go out into the world with confidence, be their true selves, and be successful anywhere they go.
MW: 7. Did you learn anything that surprised you about your student’s home country?
Wayne: Italian food is one of our favorites… we learned what we think of as Italian food with lots of sauce and cheese is more of an American concoction… authentic Italian food is lighter, full of fresh ingredients and vegetables, and uses more fresh herbs and less cheese for flavoring. We also learned that Norway is more than just the cold and hard land of the Vikings. The Norwegian people are a very loving, accepting, and happy people who are very in tune with nature, for example, the phenomenal fjords and lakes, magical skies, and beautiful oceans.
MW: Did you learn anything that surprised you about yourself during this journey?
Jennifer: I learned I’m a little OCD when it comes to putting away groceries and how I like to clean.
Wayne: I developed a deeper appreciation for others. This is going to sound silly, but as a grown man and father of seven, I am always the one that gets the most excited when we go to Disney World, and we are about to ride the It’s a Small World ride… it ties back to the deeper understanding and appreciation of other cultures that I have gained from hosting exchange students.