Q. My 16 year old daughter came home from school talking about her new friend at school who is here as part of a student exchange. Now my daughter is very interested and would like to explore the option of her becoming an exchange student next year. What exactly is a “student exchange” program? What are the benefits of participating and how can I learn more?

A: Every year, thousands of students around the world leave their hometown to study in a new country while living with a local host family. Students become active members of the host community and school, and become immersed in the host culture. There are three ways your family can participate in student exchange: first, your teen can study in another country; second, your family can host a teen from another country in your home; last but not least, you can become an exchange student coordinator for your local area.

Each experience can be highly rewarding, especially in today’s increasingly globalized world. Studying abroad allows students to develop a broadened perspective of the world as they adjust to a new environment and learn to live as the locals do. High school is also the easiest time for students master a new language. They will gain leadership skills and become confident, independent, and open-minded. According to Diana Stegall, Community Outreach Manager at Aspect Foundation International Student Exchange, cross-cultural competency is one of the most sought skills in the modern economy. She says, “A study abroad experience can push a student’s application over the edge, whether in college admissions or in professional pursuits.”

Families can gain an international experience in the comfort of their own homes by hosting an international exchange student. A host family provides three meals a day, room and board, transportation to and from school. Students bring their own spending money and are provided with U.S. health insurance. When you host an exchange student, you not only make an American dream come true, you also learn about another culture and language without leaving home. You gain a new son or daughter, and a second family in a different country. Your children gain a broader understanding of the world, learning more about geography, communication, and diversity. Your family becomes citizen diplomats who represent America and Americans positively and foster cross-cultural understanding and respect.

If you have spare time, you may also consider getting involved as an exchange student coordinator for your local area. A local coordinator works part-time in their home community to find and recruit loving host families, place exchange students in local homes and high schools, and provide fun and supportive exchange experiences for all. Stegall says, “Being a coordinator is a great way to give back to the community even if you can’t host a student yourself. You have real impact. You help bring the world to your own backyard, while enjoying the chance to share your culture and community and learning about other parts of the world from bright, eager international students.”

(Learn more at www.aspectfoundation.org or by calling 1-800-879-6884…)

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