Local Coordinator Learns From Her Exchange Students

Each year, our dedicated Local Coordinators share their love for student exchange with the families and schools in their communities, and together they make our students’ dreams come true. Our team is there to provide support and guidance, but they quickly realize there is so much to learn too! Jennie, one of our passionate Local Coordinators, shares the things she’s learned through her years of working in exchange.

Jennie Duncan (18)

“I became a Local Coordinator 15 years ago. I always enjoyed volunteering and working with teenagers, and one day I came across an ad looking for Local Coordinators. I absolutely love what I do. I always like to have a big group of students in my community each year. I find that having multiple exchange students in the area helps because our students have someone to relate to who’s close by. We plan meet-ups and they’re able to make friends not only with American teenagers but with each other. They get to learn about other countries as well as learning about the United States.

I know that for every person who has hosted a student from another country, their lives will never be the same. I keep in touch with everyone who has hosted, even just once, and they all talk about how it changed their perspective on the world. Which I think is the whole point of the program, and it’s why we do the work we do. We know it changes their world, even if it’s just a little part of the bigger world. This program changes schools, families, and communities, little by little. I think I have some of the best families, I have families of all shapes and sizes: families with kids, single families with no kids. Families don’t often realize it but our exchange students are such good influences on their own kids. They speak English very well, they’re very intelligent and motivated at school, and they like helping their classmates and host siblings. I think a lot of families think they need to always be doing things with their students but I say even taking them to your daughter’s recital is a big deal. It’s something they’ve never done before, and it’s a very big thing for them. Just taking a student with them to the grocery store when they go shopping is such a big deal for our students. When host parents share their lives with their students, it’s really exciting and fun for those students to see and better understand their host family, and vice versa. For instance, a family may know nothing about a country like Estonia! So they get to learn so much from their student too.

Our teachers and schools also play an important role in our students’ experiences. I have a student who is amazed at how when he has a question, the teachers come over, sit down, and talk him through it. He says that would never happen where he’s from. One girl was on Honor Roll at her high school here and she said before coming to the USA, she didn’t think of herself as intelligent, and she didn’t have plans to go to college. After the encouragement and support from her American teachers, she returned home to finish high school and go on to get her bachelor’s degree. And of course, our students love all the clubs and sports that are available to them. They want to try everything! Being able to try different things is a big deal for our students. 

Jennie Duncan and Students

One of my favorite stories is about one of my first grant students. At the end of the year, I always ask my students what have they learned since being here. This one student told me that he learned self-confidence. I asked him if he hadn’t felt that way before he got here, and he said he had never even heard of the word and didn’t even know it was a thing. That’s what kept me going with our grant students because kids need to always know that they’re worthy, they’re intelligent, and what they say has worth. That’s why this is such a remarkable program. 

I have a boy this year who before coming here, had no idea what Labor Day was. His host mom sent him to talk to the Chamber of Commerce to ask about their role in the holiday. He ended up putting American flags all over town, from one end to the other!

My favorite part of every year is our Christmas party. We have a big international potluck and each student brings a dish from their home country. We like them to make something that is something they would typically have around Christmas or another big holiday. When they share their food, they get to talk about what’s in the dish and their memories associated with the dish, like their mom making it when they were little. They talk about why the dish is important to them and their traditions. It makes the Christmas party the best party ever, and nobody ever wants to miss it. It’s so much fun and the food is so good!

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to bring your skills to the STS Foundation team, and open yourself and your community up to the world of student exchange. You’ll be surprised how much you have to give and how much you can learn! Join the STS Foundation team today and help in our mission to foster greater mutual understanding in our world and to empower young people to grow through the power of cultural exchange! Learn more about becoming a Local Coordinator.

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Local Coordinator Learns From Her Exchange Students

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