Greenheart Exchange has been a sponsor of the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa since 1985. Through the J-1 Exchange Program, international exchange students from 60+ countries attend school across the U.S. while living with a welcoming, volunteer American host family. While on program, exchange students improve their English, make new friends, gain leadership skills, volunteer in local communities, and, of course, serve as ambassadors of their home country. This program is a great choice for students who wish to experience American culture and step out of their comfort zone for an unforgettable and life-changing school year or semester.
Every year, our field staff works closely with hundreds of students from all over the world to match them with host families. They often share with us many inspiring stories that show the positive impact of the high-school program on the students and on the host families. Regional Manager, Faith, shared this heartening story of Areeya, one of our 2022-2023 students. Read on, to find out how an exchange year in the U.S. opened a door of opportunities for Areeya!
“This is Areeya from Thailand. She won a coveted grant spot to come to the USA in 2022-23. She was the very first girl in our database and the very last girl placed. I still feel so lucky to have been the one to have placed her at the end! I’ve loved Areeya since the first time I met her. She has a humility that is just so beautiful. Areeya is such a smart girl that she could have easily given less at school and still had amazing results. She could have contributed to making dinner or playing with her host siblings less and she would have still been adored by her host family. But that’s not her way! I don’t believe that I ever saw Areeya give less than 110%, even if it was something she didn’t think she could do.
That’s why these photos and this story mean so much to me. You see, Areeya shared a home with another grant student who she grew to admire deeply. Areeya is quieter and more reserved than her exchange sister. In nearly every situation, Areeya carefully plays a support role to those around her and this was true with her sister. Whenever I announced that there was a competition for a trip Areeya would say, “Oh, but Faith, how many students can win this” and when I told her, no matter what that number was, she’d look at me and say, “Oh no, I couldn’t win it”.
When the trip to Hawaii was announced it was no surprise to me that she graciously informed me of all the many reasons that her exchange sister was a better candidate to win than she was. How her sister wrote so well, and expressed her thoughts in English so easily, how everyone loved her enthusiasm, and even what an amazing mastery she had of the five-paragraph essay. I asked, “But Areeya, wouldn’t you like to win the trip to Hawaii?” Turning her eyes up, she was near tears as she told me, “Oh yes, Faith, more than anything in the world! I could never…my family could never…I’d never be able to go to Hawaii!” I encouraged her to challenge the belief that she couldn’t do it, to think about what she had already accomplished by being chosen to come to the USA. I asked her to think about what she’d already learned about herself, about America, about others and simply tell that story in her voice.
Her experience wasn’t completely easy, and we’d talked at length about that. I reminded her of some of the struggles she had when she arrived, of how she’d managed those things with grace and kindness. I could see the doubt in her eyes, but she agreed to try. As you may have guessed, she won that trip to Hawaii! Below are the pictures of Areeya when she realized that the essay, she wrote won a spot on the trip.
In fact, each of my grant students won a trip this year and I’m so very proud of every one of them, but my heart still melts when I think of Areeya and her surprise and delight in winning this coveted trip! She is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful, delightful, mature, introspective kids I’ve ever met! In my final evaluation of Areeya I wrote, “I’d take 100 more just like her” but I know, there’s no one just like her!“
Thank you, Faith, for sharing such a motivational experience with us! We wish Areeya all the best on her future adventures and plans.