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Style Magazine

Cultures Connect

Dec 30, 2011 05:56AM ● By Style

When Debbi Holden thinks about the day her son Ryan, then 16, left Auburn bound for Germany with 20 classmates, she remembers having mixed emotions.

“They all took a bus from the high school to the airport,” Holden says, “so after the bus left, all of us parents just sort of looked at each other.” Ryan called hours later from Munich to say his ATM card wasn’t working. Holden, although understandably concerned, felt confident his program guides could resolve the issue. “As parents, we all worry when they go out the door on their own,” she says. “But if the program is good, the kids will be fine.”  

When exploring exchange and study abroad programs, parents should keep in mind that having a trust-based relationship with their child is just as important as confidence in the organization sponsoring the trip. “Parents need to have a good heart-to-heart with their kids to know that they will be trustworthy and do the right thing,” says Thomas Schroeder, co-coordinator of Placer High School’s exchange with Germany. “As long as they have their trust, the parents then need to let their child go and have their adventure.”

Schroeder credits the students he met during a Fulbright teaching exchange at Tassilo High School in Bavaria with inspiring the program between their school and Placer, which has offered the trip since the fall of 2000. “Many kids have maintained very close contact with their partners and quite a few have returned for more visits,” he says. “It’s broken the travel barrier for our kids.” The three-week experience takes place in June, two months after German students visit Auburn. The $2,500 price tag includes everything except a handful of meals and spending money.

According to Cathy Johnson, Roseville-area coordinator of Cultural Homestay International (CHI), when her son went abroad he “appreciated the experience all the more because he helped raise some of the money.” Johnson has been involved with CHI, a non-profit educational organization, since 1983 when her family hosted an exchange student for the first time. “It’s probably the single greatest experience we’ve had as a family,” she says. “It helped us to realize that we are part of the world, not just our tiny community.” CHI offers programs all over the world ranging in length from three weeks to an academic year. A four-week summer trip to northern Japan costs approximately $3,500 (plus spending money) and sees participants living with Japanese host families, participating in cultural activities, and attending classes at a local high school.

People to People International, a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is yet another option for students as young as 13 looking to gain a global perspective. According to its Web site, PTPI has a presence in 135 countries and “enhances international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities.”

“There are so many possibilities for young people to explore the world today,” Johnson says. “Whether a family hosts an exchange student or they send their son or daughter abroad, it helps us to understand our neighbors while building a deep, long-lasting friendship.”


MORE on International Student Exchange Programs…


Q: What are the benefits of the student exchange experience?

“[Students] learn to see the world through other eyes, learn to be flexible, develop greater independence and gain confidence that they can travel in a foreign country; in addition, many are open to doing semesters abroad, learn new languages, make many new friends and create some incredible memories, etc.”

­—Thomas Schroeder, Placer High School German Exchange co-coordinator


“The three-week exchange partner from Germany ended up coming back to the United States and staying with us for a whole school year. I consider her my ‘Exchange Daughter’ and her mother and brother are family to us.”

Cathy Asbury, parent and exchange student host


“The experience will make your child more independent and in turn gives them a view of the world [they] would not have had otherwise. The kids gain a global perspective of life. It also gave our son the travel bug for sure.”

Debbi Holden, parent and exchange student host


“From this trip, I will have international friends as well as friends for life. I hope this experience will motivate me even more to travel the world and maybe even study abroad in the future!”

Lindsay Holden, prospective American exchange student


Q: What advice would you give students before they go abroad?

“My advice for students is that they recognize that they are American ambassadors; along with the fun that comes from exploring a culture very different from our own, comes a huge responsibility. I would also advise them to keep an open mind.”

Cathy Johnson, Cultural Homestay International Folsom-area coordinator


“…Have a real interest in the people: how they live and what they're interested in. Be willing to try new things – you're traveling to broaden what you know. Finickiness is not a good trait to bring along.”

Thomas Schroeder, Placer High School German Exchange coordinator


Q: What advice would you give parents before sending their child abroad?

“While parents often recognize the huge benefits of traveling abroad, it's important for them to also realize that it's not without risks. It's very important that parents feel comfortable with the organization that they are sending their son or daughter abroad with. Do some research online before choosing an organization and ask to speak to past participants. Your local high schools may also have some suggestions.”  

Cathy Johnson, Cultural Homestay International Folsom-area coordinator


“As long as [parents] have their [child’s] trust, the parents then need to let their child go and have their adventure – don't expect many emails. This is their time to be immersed in the culture, not looking back home.”

Thomas Schroeder, Placer High School German Exchange coordinator


Q: What should families know before hosting a student from another country?

“Have the kids email back and forth to make sure they are compatible. Are they 'high strung' and 'clique-y?' Are they 'needy' or 'immature?’ These will not fit well to experiencing new situations and friends.”

Cathy Asbury, parent and exchange student host


“Families who host should make contact with their guest in advance of their stay. My experience is this allows a certain level of comfort in advance for both the guest and his/her parents.”

Raelene Herzig, El Dorado County PTPI Chapter president


“They should have a relationship built on trust with the sponsoring organization. Research the organization and make sure that the coordinator is someone who lives locally and whom you feel comfortable working with, someone who responds promptly when you call and is there to support you and your student.”

Cathy Johnson, Cultural Homestay International Folsom-area coordinator


Q: What advice would you give parents who are on the fence about letting their child participate in an exchange program?

“Your child will have adult supervision and protection. Issues such as 'getting along with other students' and 'getting into trouble' are either concerns everywhere or nowhere, in my opinion. Going abroad doesn't offer any more opportunity than going to San Francisco, for example, to get into trouble.”

Cathy Asbury, parent and exchange student host


“Do it! It was one of our best experiences for our son and [we’re] looking forward to that for our daughter this spring. Take the cue from your kids, though. I think it is normal for them to be a little apprehensive of some things, but they should be excited to go.” 

Debbi Holden, parent and exchange student host