A Big World Gets A Little Smaller Through Cultural Exchange

by Jillian Sims, AYP Program Assistant

When you first meet Lisa, it doesn’t take long to be affected by her positive energy and a serious passion for cultural exchange.

After placing 7 students in her first year as an LC, she is now acting as an Area Coordinator for parts of Maine and Vermont. In fact, she placed so many students in her first year that she qualified for and attended CCI Greenheart’s annual conference, most recently held in San Francisco. It was there that she spoke about one particular student who she placed with a single host. Though it was at first only expected to be only a Welcome Family situation, she beamed with joy and enthusiasm about how the family and student developed a great bond over a daily routine of morning coffees and trips across the country and how now the placement is very much permanent. Not only this, but the student and family have made a lasting connection that will go far beyond their initial exchange experience.

Yet, this is just one of the stories Lisa shared. It quickly becomes clear that she is a person doesn’t see problems; she sees challenges, and even then, none are too big to overcome. When asked how she got started in cultural exchange, she shares her driving motivation and previous work in the exchange community:

“I have always wanted to make the world a better place, one student and one host family at a time.  I had taken in refugees and exchange students after the war in Kosovo since the students in our state couldn’t go back home, so I became a volunteer host mother without any program support for many years. I care about getting rid of stereotypes and misunderstandings among cultures and you want American students and families to know that there is a big world out there and they are just like us and we need to love each other.”

So when she met Regional Director, Kathy Hansen, who shared with her the opportunity to become a CCI Greenheart  Local Coordinator and to gain the support of a trusted organization behind her for work that she was already familiar with,  the decision was an easy one to make. Of course, it also does not hurt that in her professional life she works writing grants to raise money for charities and non-profits around the country and world.  Being a world traveler and a repeat host parent adds even more experience to her multicultural life and experience.

12_09_05 Exchange StudentsThough it has only been a year with CCI Greenheart, Lisa has already had wonderful experiences with here students and made lasting impressions on them. One can only imagine what a great LC she must be. She recalls one of the funniest moments she has had with her students:

“At the mid-year meeting, I was singing and dancing at my table during the entertainment section of the program, and I looked over at another table and noticed that many of my exchange students were pointing and laughing at me, probably saying, ‘Look at our crazy coordinator!'”

And then too, there was the impressive experience of seeing one of her Palestinian Grant’s YES student speaking to a room of intelligence officers after having been invited to Washington DC for winning an essay contest. There he spoke of what he has learned about American’s perspective about the Middle East, particularly Palestine, as a direct result of 911. The student spoke of cultural misunderstandings and stereotypes he faced, and generally was a living example of the core of the cultural exchange mission: to bring cultural understanding and compassion to fellow global citizens.

When you ask Lisa for what it takes to be a successful LC, she doesn’t tell you about a simple tip or trick, she is quick to remind you of the importance of connection and teamwork for ultimate success:

This business is based on relationship building – with school principals, with host families, with CCI Greenheart staff in Chicago, with directors and other LCs and ACs who need to help each other and work as a team, with partners from other countries, and with exchange students from around the world.

So whether as a fellow LC, a host family, or generally just as someone who cares about cultural exchange and the value it holds for all of us, we could learn a little from Lisa and her beliefs about her work and ultimately her outlook. The world is a big place, but it gets a bit smaller when you work together and are open to seeing a little bit of ourselves in even the stranger on the other side of the globe.

Interested in making your world a little smaller? Consider hosting a student with CCI Greenheart or becoming a Local Coordinator! Click here to start your journey today.