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Think back to when you were sixteen years old.  What was your focus?  There are thousands of young people from around the world right now who are exchange students, and chances are there are one or more under your supervision.  At sixteen or so, their vision took them beyond the walls of their home, beyond their city limits and their country borders … to a new place in another part of the world.

What characterizes these young leaders?  We talked in the last couple of weeks with program sponsors and agreed that it just takes courage … the courage to venture out to a new family, a new school, a new circle of friends, a new country.  At sixteen, did you have that courage?

Read what sponsors, a parent, and a student had to say, and I think you’ll agree with us about courage:

“It does take courage to leave your family, friends, and familiar places behind and go to a different part of the world on your own.  The experience is scary but quickly becomes fun, and by the end of the year, new bonds for the rest of your life are formed.  You go home wiser, stronger, and better equipped to deal with the challenges faced as an adult.”

Marcie Schneider, President, Intrax Inc.

“With everything going on in the world today, cultural exchange is more important than ever, but can also have additional challenges. What I have seen is even as teenagers, students recognize this, and rather than shy away from the difficulties – they face them head-on, showing determination, resilience, and enviable courage. They are truly the future changemakers in this world.”

Stephanie Smart, Director of Operations and Compliance, CIEE “It takes courage to leave your comfortable family life in your home country with your mom and dad to travel across the world to a new family you know nothing about. Are they nice people? What will the food be like? Will they treat me well? What will my new high school be like? Will the students be nice to me? Will they even talk to me? Will I make friends? What about my classes, will it be easier or harder? Am I really up to this experience? Will I be homesick? Can I make it a whole ten months?” Dave Dahl, CEO, WISE Foundation “Ours is a small, simple apartment in Berlin, and he’s always been a shy boy. But since grade 4, he’s had written on a piece of paper on his bedroom wall, ‘exchange student in U.S.’ as one of his goals.  So we knew we had to make it happen. He’s so changed now.  More outgoing. He even talks about making schools in Berlin better, so kids are more interested.” Parent of an exchange student with AYUSA “I love helping the younger kids and explaining my culture.  It was scary coming to this little community because of my different religion. But everyone has been nice.  They are very curious and ask lots of questions.” A YES Exchange Student from AYUSA

Do you have something to add?  Something to say about exchange students?  If you do, we’d like to devote an upcoming issue to sharing educators’ thoughts about the high school exchange program … the students, the families, the teachers, and administrators who make it happen.  How do exchange students contribute to your community?  What do you think of the program overall?  CLICK HERE to share your thoughts.  Watch for this special publication of EXCHANGE STUDENT ISSUES.

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