How has your community benefitted from cultural exchange?
There are countless ways my community has benefitted from cultural exchange. One group who benefitted from this was my community of friends. Before my involvement with AYUSA in 2009, my group of friends did not have much knowledge of other cultures. It was funny to hear some of the questions that my friends have asked students. For example, someone asked Natalene if she spoke ‘European’. Very soon, my friends learned that exchange teenagers are not much different than us. We all just want to live life, make friends and create lifelong memories. Having exchange students around and learning about their lives is very rewarding. My friends realize this, and they take time to create relationships with these exchange students that last a lifetime. One day when we all go our separate ways, my friends will hold on to the friendships we have nurtured and we’ll all be more knowledgeable about the world because of these relationships.
My school community has also benefitted from cultural exchange. My city population is just over 110,000 but our schools are not very culturally diverse. Beyond the German, Latin, French, and Spanish clubs at our high school, we’re not really introduced to what life is like for teenagers in other countries. By having exchange students in our classrooms, our learning environment is much richer. Having them intertwined with American students gives the exchange students the opportunity to be in both a teaching and learning role. For example, in a world history class, Milica was able to share her own family’s experience of when the US bombed the city she lived in, and how that impacted her as a child. That is not something you can learn about in a text book. The students in French and German classes often call on the exchange students to help them prepare for tests or to tutor them, as they have first-hand knowledge of the language and can often find easier and more fun ways of teaching it. Through their interaction with our exchange students, the students at my school have learned so much about what life is like for teenagers in foreign countries. My classmates have come to appreciate (maybe not totally) how lucky we are to have lots of school pride, many extra-curricular activities and to not have to go to school on the weekends. Many of the American students become very close friends with the exchange students and have stayed in touch with them after they leave. Technology, particularly Skype®, has helped to make it easier and inexpensive for those relationships to continue which have contributed to some of the students at my school going to the exchange student’s country and visiting them over the summer. This demonstrates that AYUSA program has both immediate and long-term impact.
Seeing my church community impacted by these students has been eye opening. Although I appreciate that our exchange students may not have the same beliefs as their host family, it has been heartwarming to see some of them embrace the church experience and get involved in church activities. By sharing their customs and beliefs, the students show us that maybe we are not all so different and sometimes they help to educate us on where we may have some wrong perceptions about other religions. Hearing from past exchange students, they say that church in their countries is very different from ours. This has encouraged many of them to get involved in church, not necessarily to believe what we do, but to get the full experience. From Harryet singing a solo at her church’s Christmas Eve service, to Milica being a 1st grade small group children’s ministry helper in her church every week ,this has helped to show we can find lots of things in common to where we can form a bond. My church community has benefitted from these exchange students by understanding how other religions and churches across the globe work. People find it fascinating that even though these exchange students may not believe what we do, they still are open to serving and helping out around the church.
As for the Springfield community, we are a conservative Midwestern city with lots of our citizens having lived here their whole lives. Many will never travel to another country to learn about another culture. Having the exchange students be part of our community gives us a chance to learn more about what it is like to live outside of the US from someone rather than from movies, TV or the internet. One person from our town took two students out to dinner to learn more about the country that her ancestors came from. The students were excited and anxious to share their culture with her. I believe that having these students be a part of our lives is more rewarding than we realize at the moment. For those who do not travel, the exchange students help to make the world a little bit smaller and more real.
My various communities (friends, school, church and city) have benefitted from cultural exchange by having them teach us that the world doesn’t revolve around us, it revolves around relationships and love. Engaging in relationships, listening to what they have to say, and learning about their cultures benefits our community more than we may ever know. These students are amazing, and lives would not be the same without them. We will be forever impacted individually and as an entire community for having these cross-cultural experiences. Tim McGraw once said "We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere."
To watch Lily's inspiring video, click here.