Rakhat (Ray) from Kazakhstan didn’t start out as “my” exchange student. When he arrived on his FLEX program in 2018, I already had 7 students I’d placed in my area to coordinate and look after. But something happened and Ray–and his exchange brother, Nelson–moved to my crew of exchange kids and host families.
It was already a couple of months into the school year. Moves can be like starting over, and I wanted to make sure these two boys felt welcome in my Coordinator family of students and host families. I invited the family to join us for our group holiday party.
They seemed very self-conscious with my tight-knit group though they gradually relaxed. But still, I sensed something was off with Ray and his host family. I dug in.
Turns out, Ray’s host parents were not prepared for the responsibilities of hosting, they were not well matched, and the school was sorely lacking for Ray.
I decided to move Ray to the home of Olivia, a single teacher. To meet his academic needs, I transferred him to a better school where he could be challenged and make friends. He had hoped for a family with kids, but Olivia was great with him.
As a FLEX scholarship student, he was anxious to be involved, and with our encouragement he began jumping at opportunities to volunteer, participating in many school and community activities.
When he returned home, he and I messaged for months and I reminded him of how his year changed from beginning to end and how much he had grown –and would continue to grow– because of the challenge he’d experienced. I reminded him of all the good things he’d done and the people whose hearts he had touched. I told him he had made a difference here–and I knew he always would, wherever he was.
He is a university student now and has spent a semester in Moscow on an internship. He has served as a university representative for American Councils and FLEX. He is leading, and because of his challenges here, he will know how to advise others along their way.
I tell Ray’s story because as an LC you must expect the unexpected. A good LC is alert to nuances in a family or a student’s communications. You’ll need the ability to read between the lines. Kids and parents alike won’t always tell you when things aren’t quite right. It is an LC’s responsibility to find that perfect host home for each of our exchange students. Sometimes it is perfect. Sometimes it isn’t the best match. A Local Coordinator has to be ready to pivot, to make it right for the student, for the family.
Expect to wear many hats–parent, counselor, friend, sports mom! Expect to sometimes wander into uncharted territory. Expect to feel you don’t have the skills or tools, only to discover …YOU DO. Expect to fail sometimes, but also expect to succeed in ways you never imagined. Expect to cry and to laugh, to get mad, to be sad, and also to cheer and to be oh-so-proud.
We learn as we go. I learn something new every year. And it’s often humbling–just when I think I’ve got it all figured out. Trust me, you’ll never have it all figured out. But if you pay attention and trust your gut, your heart will lead you to the right answers to help the students–and you–succeed.
THANK YOU Connie for sharing your wisdom as a Local Coordinator.
If you think this is a role perfect for you, please visit PlacewithGreenheart.org to begin an application.