Truthfully, however, most of us can be found right in the middle. We want a good job, a safe place to raise a family and the opportunity to enjoy our surroundings. While those who live this lifestyle might not think they have much to offer in the ways of sharing American culture with others, you might be surprised just how big of an impact you can have on a foreign visitor, just by sharing your typical American family lifestyle.
Since 1985, CCI Greenheart has been bringing students from all around the globe to communities all across the U.S. including the South Sound. The company offers year-long or semester-long high school academic programs, summer stays and short-term one- to four-week hosting. What makes the whole program come together, however, is volunteer families who are willing and ready to bring a teenager into their home and provide them with the same treatment as they would their own child.
“Families choose to host because it is a way of bringing the world to their own homes if travel opportunities are limited for them,” said Regional Director Leah Frazier. “The impact on our own children, extended families, schools and neighbors is immeasurable. Sharing our own culture allows us to impact the views and opinions held of the American people. Being a host parent gives us the unique opportunity to better understand other cultures and make a significant impact on a young person in need of our care and mentoring.”
Shawna Wise is one of the local mothers to bring an exchange student into her family’s home. They recently hosted Leif, a 16-year-old boy from Germany. “We heard about the exchange opportunity from a friend, and as we dug deeper into the program, we decided that it sounded like an exciting opportunity for our family and an even bigger opportunity for Leif,” said Wise. “We just couldn’t ignore the fact that this was a chance for us to give to a teenager who had such a big dream of coming to the U.S. The care and support the exchange program gives to the student and the host family during their year here made the transition seamless.”
Both Leif and the Wise family were quick to learn about the differences and similarities between American and German cultures. “Most different was that our high school offered competitive sports. Leif’s school in Germany did not offer team sports—the only available competitive sports were club sports outside of the school. He was thrilled to sign up for everything,” said Wise. “Family life was very similar to what he had in Germany, although he found it odd that 16-year-olds were driving and not many kids rode their bikes everywhere they needed to go. He said all teens in Germany ride their bikes wherever they need to go. No driving until 18 years of age in Germany.”
Many exchange students come to the United States speaking English but want to improve their language skills by immersing themselves in our culture. They do this by living in an English-speaking home, attending all-day classes at local high schools, and in some cases by interning with businesses and organizations. Greenheart also encourages its participants to really take in the community by getting involved at the local level. “What sets us apart from other organizations is that we facilitate several State Department Grant Programs and require volunteer service of each exchange student so they can give back to the schools and communities that welcome them,” said Frazier.
It’s not uncommon, whether families host for just a few weeks or the 10-month program, for initial relationships to become long-lasting friendships. “We have kept in touch with Leif, and he has been back to visit for a few weeks. We have made a forever connection with him, and he will always be a part of our family,” said Wise.
And of course, it’s not just the exchange student who does all of the learning and adapting to a different culture. “Hosting a student is one of the best things we have ever done as a family. It taught our boys, and us, selflessness, patience, cultural understanding and even a few cool German slang words!” said Wise. “It reminded our kids that the world is so much bigger than within the walls of their school, and there are commonalities between teens all over world.”
If you aren’t able to get out and travel halfway across the world, consider bringing worldly culture into your own home with an exchange student through Greenheart. Hosting opportunities can last as short as two weeks, and you’ll be making an incredible impact on a young person’s life, whether you think your family is typical or not. For more information on programs available, visit CCI-Exchange.com .