Forever Changed: a Local Coordinator Shares her Journey from Exchange Student to Mentor

By Jillian Sims; Academic Year Compliance and Operations Manager

Meet Julie Zehner, Local Coordinator in Illinois. Julie has worked with CCI Greenheart in both the Short Term programs, Homestay, and J1 Visa High School Programs.As a former exchange student herself, she shares her love of Thailand, cultural exchange, and working with students around the world.


Why did you decide to become a Local Coordinator with CCI Greenheart?

I decided to get more involved with student exchange after we hosted our first student, Prim from Thailand. I decided to place students since it seemed I wanted to host them all!

I went on to host 4 more students in our home, as well as placing over 20 more with other families. As a teenager, my family hosted Annabelle from Costa Rica. She returned and stood up in my wedding and we spent our honeymoon visiting her country. I also was an exchange student in Thailand.

What moment has made you laugh the most since Zoe and Aom have arrived?

We were sitting at the HS football game talking about eating “stinky Tofu” in Taiwan, and how delicious the bugs are in Thailand. Aom told us we should give them a try! “They are good,” she promised.

After the CSIET student panel, Julie (upper left) and her students join Chicago Office Staff at a Milauakee Pizza Joint.

After the CSIET student panel, Julie (upper left) and her students join Chicago Office Staff at a Milwaukee Pizza Joint.

After participating on the student panel at CSIET in Milwaukee, Julie and her students joined Chicago Office Staff members at a local pizza joint. Here, Aoym enjoys her first mozzarella cheese stick.

Aom enjoys her first mozzarella cheese stick. Fellow exchange student, Zoe from Taiwan, joins in the Wisconsin dining experience

What moment made you realize the larger impact of what you’re doing as an LC ?

I do not have one particular moment; however, I can say that this summer my daughter, husband and I went to Thailand to visit 14 past students that we either hosted, placed, or had visited us when we were hosting over winter break. All of those students took time out of their life, to spend as much time with us while we were there. They took us to different places, dinner, and just spent time visiting us.

It was very clear that we impacted those students when they were here in the USA. I think that since I have been involved in student exchange since High school, I understand and know what an impact student exchange has had in my life. I am still very good friends with my “sister” from Costa Rica and my Thai family.

Julie Zehner 2


What do you do when you’re not placing exchange students?

Aom enjoys pumpkin carving at a get together for students.

I work full time as a preschool director/ teacher. I love being a mom, and am very involved with my children and family. I have been working with children since college and enjoy being involved with them. I also try to see my students as often as possible, whether we go to school events, hang out to just watch movies, or plan activities so the students can get together in groups.


What have you learned/what is a tip for other LCs?

Remember the big picture: that the students are from different cultures, and family lifestyles. They are still learning too and they are a long way from home, so be sensitive to the students, but make sure you are guiding them with clear expectations. You might just be the person that makes the difference in their exchange experience.

I also think that having a “buddy” LC really makes a difference because you can ask for advice, share stories and you have the support of someone doing what you are doing. Students need support and sometimes LCs do too!

You spent time as an exchange student in Thailand yourself. How has that experience affected your work in cultural exchange as an LC?

It has helped to make me who I am. I feel that since I did what they are doing as well, I can relate to them. I feel that I can advise them based off of my experience and not just what they are supposed to do or feel.

How was the experience of attending part of the CSIET conference and seeing your students speak on the student panel?

I felt very proud to be there with the girls. They are a lot of fun. It was nice to spend time with them going over the questions and hearing what they were going to say.

Thai student, Aoym, participating in the student panel, discusses her love of food, particularly, her daily dose of cheese and chocolate!

Interested in becoming a Local Coordinator yourself? Click here to learn how to begin your journey in cultural exchange!