The kids that come to the U.S. as exchange students are tremendous. They are amazing young people that courageously leave their homes to spend almost a year abroad. They do this out of a hope that the experience will bolster their futures, improve their English skills, and strengthen their future careers. More and more, English is considered the language of commerce and young people see the immersion experience as essential to their future success. For some, they do this out of a sense of ADVENTURE that is woven into the fabric of their being. I appreciate this because I share it, but many come for more practical reasons. While they come for many reasons, they enrich their communities in ways as diverse as they are.
Some of the exchange students I’ve worked with this year have been involved in music, public speaking, dramatic productions, and debate. This evening, I’m actually about to head out in just a bit to watch Alex from Slovakia perform in his school’s dramatic production of “A Spring Awakening.” It blows me away to see them participate in activities in which verbal communication is so essential. Most American teenagers get nervous performing. That exchange students do this in a language other than their native tongue I imagine takes a special kind of courage.
Others are involved in sports. This year I’ve had students that participate in golf, soccer, and track & field. In September, Diego from Spain was featured in his local newspaper for his performance on his schools’ golf team. Sports present a wonderful opportunity for students to build peer relationships by engaging as part of the team. In this way, team sports benefit the exchange student. However, it also benefits the team when an exchange student participates in school and intramural sports as it exposes the student’s teammates and coach to global diversity and the opportunity to participate in cultural exchange.
When I have hosted guests from around the world, I experience that they are grateful for the hospitality, but I don’t necessarily host for purely selfless reasons (though that sounds good). I do believe that cultural exchange is good for us. Us earthlings need to know how much we have in common. But if hosting was simply the equivalent of spiritual granola, I wouldn’t do it. In fact, I know that granola is nutritious but I don’t eat it because it tastes like sweet gravel to me (I get that you might love granola and appreciate our differences). I am a little self-indulgent and want to get more out of an exchange than simply knowing that I am “doing good.” Through hosting I get to share in the gifts of my guests (such as going to watch Alex perform). Sharing in their gifts is like a sprinkling of presents in my life and an opportunity to experience a gift that we could all use more of: Gratitude.