A Perfect Match: The Secret to a Great Exchange Experience

by Jillian Sims, Academic Year Program Assistant

Question: What do a sommelier, a matchmaker, and a great Local Coordinator with CCI Greenheart all have in common? The ability to recognize and ensure a successful match, of course!

Sandra, a first-year Local Coordinator (LC), used this approach in placing her seven students with host families. “You don’t always have control over some circumstances,” says Sandra, “but I go to great lengths to match families with students.  I really think it is more important to have a successful year.”  Her husband and son were first-hand witnesses to the hours she spent pouring over student bios and learning all about the students available to host families in her area. It became not only an enjoyable activity, but proved to be a successful tool in creating quality placements that are blossoming into a successful year ahead.

This isn’t the only tool kept in Sandra’s LC toolbox. Her own experience hosting for short term stays over multiple years has been an invaluable aid in making the transition to a successful LC. Finding it important for her family to understand and explore their own cultural roots, she enrolled her children in German school as young as age four, encouraged them to study abroad when the occasion arose, and now even has one daughter studying in Austria as a Fullbright Scholarship recipient.  But she didn’t stop there! Sharing her home with other exchange students as her family grew also helped her children to learn about other cultures and see their own in a different light.  Even now, her youngest son loves interacting with the students and even helps to spread the word about finding host families by sending a text to fellow German class students.

It was a natural next step for Sandra, in this worldly lifestyle of cultural exchange, to become an LC to help facilitate these experiences herself.  And because of her own personal hosting experience, she is better able to anticipate and alleviate the fears of future host families.  When families express fears that they will not be able to host due to plans they already have in motion for their year and family life – school activities for their own children, family vacations, graduations, etc., Sandra calms families worries. She encourages hosting still, urging that it ‘Doesn’t change your everyday life’. However, that isn’t to say that Sandra, her own experiences hosting, or the students she acts as an LC now, aren’t making their own marks on the world around them.  She’s witnessed her students create advocates in their presence communities and that itself “makes for more harmony in the community,” said Sandra.  In other words, the students speak for themselves by their actions, and easy integration into host family life.

Though all of her placements have been successful so far this year, with the occasional but minor challenges many LCs, families, and students face, there is one Brazilian student in particular who has already touched Sandra’s heart.  Her student’s recent Facebook post to her natural parents expressed homesickness but the determination to carry on with the program and its values. Seeing the parent’s supportive response to their daughter and the inspiring conversation that went back and forth went straight to Sandra’s heart and brought into focus the reason why the experience of cultural exchange through an experience like an academic year abroad is such a wonderful and beneficial program to all involved. From the LC, to the host family, to the student and natural parents, all are an important piece of this ever changing and expanding worldwide understanding.