From my Heart

As a child, I was fascinated with people not from Minnesota. World travel was not commonplace where I grew up and classmates from other countries were non existent until my high school years. It was exciting to meet my great uncle Larry who spoke Spanish as his native language and to hear his stories of childhood in Spain. He inspired me to learn Spanish at the age of 9. It was memorable to go to what was one of the first Mexican restaurants in Minnesota, “La Casa Coronado” and to enjoy my first tamales.

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These events sound commonplace, but there was a time in Minnesota when areas were more isolated due to less highways and little immigration. It was considered “ideal” to blend in and even dress alike. How exciting it was when our town had an influx of refugees from Vietnam during  my high school years!  Before then, our only Asian neighbors were restaurant owners from China.

Anoka watertower

I remember sitting in the gym when a beautiful girl named Anh entered, carrying her tennis shoes and looking frightened. My heart melted seeing her fear and I greeted her. As I tried to explain  that she should wear her shoes, she politely nodded and said “thank you.”  This was a defining moment in my life, as I realized  my world was very small and needed expansion.

Fast forward to grade 12 where we had 2 exchange students: Elena from El Salvador and Erik from Belgium.  My new friends were the best education I received in my senior year! You see, at this point in time, the  only kids I had met not born in the USA were from Vietnam or Mexico.

From Elena I learned of poverty, political unrest, the importance of family, grace, dignity and gratitude.  She bore an incredible amount of  grace in meeting our stares of curiosity with her bright, wide smile. Elena was quick to educate us on her customs and we learned from her generous example to be more thankful and humble. We were pen pals after graduation for about five years. Occasionally I wonder if political unrest caused her letters to cease.

hippies

I could write volumes about Erik!  We became very close and he called me his little sister.  For over 10 years, Erik and I corresponded.   Erik had an interesting perspective on Americans. From the television and movies, he thought our country was crawling with what he called “hippies.” In the spring, he went to a rock concert with me and he excitedly pointed out “hippies.”   Another endearing quality of Erik’s was he would correct our grammar! On the day of graduation, we embraced and cried.

Erik visited the USA 9 years later on business. It was not the meeting I would have preferred. About a dozen classmates met at a restaurant. At the time, my former husband accompanied us and his domineering, entertaining personality took over our time together. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see my Belgium brother again!

We all have varying belief systems. My  belief system says things happen for a reason. Through career changes and life events, I found myself working in the same school district that educated me. What a blessing to end up educating international students in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program! The students taught me more than I could ever teach!

exchange students at museum

My blessing of working with ESL students came to an end due to budget cuts. After a stint working with a wonderful company that did not align with my life purpose, I ended up with Council for Educational Travel USA!  We place and supervise international exchange students. It truly feels like life has become full circle!

With the advent of social media we are able to communicate more around the world. However, that does not replace the experience of spending time with others firsthand.  It is priceless witnessing “firsts” with our students:  the “Welcome to the USA” signs at the airport, the wonder of snowfall, homecoming, American food, Mall of America, Halloween and more!

Frago

I think we may all agree that we are greatly influenced by images on media and may assume things that may or may not be true. For example, not all Minnesotans act like the characters in ‘Fargo.” Another example is not all Muslim women wear Hijab. By spending time with those brought up in other lands, we receive a valuable education not found elsewhere. That education can create a ripple and that ripple may extend around the world.

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I invite you to join me on CETUSA’s mission of: Reaching out to encourage a lifelong journey of global peace and understanding. You may do this as a host family or as a local coordinator, which is a rewarding part time endeavor!

CETUSA life

 

 

 

 

Be the Peace

Busy Busy Busy 

It seems life a few decades ago was slower. I am not sure if that is true or not, but it is a perception many of us have. Most of us are working for the weekend.” We rush about trying to get to work on time, run  errands,  attend school and family activities and by the time the weekend rolls around, we want to tune out and relax!

Peaceful Week Days

You can have a peaceful week/work day!  First of all, start the day right.  Do not lay in bed too long filling your brain with dread to get up.  Think happy thoughts, journal, pray or meditate to set a positive tone before starting your  work day.

Set aside 30 minutes (more if you can swing it) just for you! Meditation. prayer, yoga, working out, bubble baths, reading or watching a vintage television show are all relaxing activities.  Make these things a priority!

Barraged With News

Gone are the days of a leisurely cup of coffee over the local newspaper to find out what is happening in the world.  Our phones ping with news, social media blasts news, our email inbox fills up with news, we have talk radio in our cars and if there is time to watch television, we have “breaking news.”

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We hear “fake news,” political news, opposing viewpoints, celebrity gossip, accusations, justifications and not enough “feel good stories.”  It is no wonder some of us get a bleak view of the world today!

Think

Now, think of this: people outside of the USA are also barraged with news. As we hear unflattering news about other countries, it makes sense they also hear bad things about the USA.  We know despite all the tragedy, most people in the USA are good,  we enjoy many freedoms and have more prosperity and privilege than most. The difference is a few decades ago, we had less news sources and therefore life seemed “safer.”

Blended-Step-Family

Think again

Could it be that things are not as bad in other countries as we hear through the media?  That may or may not be so.  One way to get an unbiased perspective would be to travel the world. Although that sounds wonderful, it is not always feasible.

War and Peace

Without delving into history or politics, common sense should dictate that the more we understand someone, the less likely we are to harbor mistrust or dislike. Although the preceding statement references people, it is people that make up countries! Thankfully,  there are diplomats throughout the world working to keep our world peaceful. Unfortunately, those efforts are not always rewarded.

What We Can Do to Promote Peace

There are many things we can do to promote a peaceful world.  As Gandhi said: “be the change you want to see in the world.”  We can be less quick to judge, take time to know our immigrant community, walk away from conflict and “count to 10” before responding to negativity. This can promote a ripple effect.

We can cut back on social media, turn off the television, do our own research when we hear something sensational or “tune out” the bad.

Another way to promote world peace is through cultural exchange.  Cultural exchange is when families host students from other countries  for part or all of a school year. When the students go back home after their foreign country experience, the ripple effect spreads  when they talk of their favorable experiences in the country that hosted them.  Over 300 world leaders have been exchange students!  Wouldn’t it be exciting to find out your former exchange student is now a president?

exchange students at museum

Following are testimonials from former host families:

J. Anzek Orr We have hosted 11 students in the past 20 years, I see the difference between the students from back than and the students now with social media. We are very proud of our “Bonus Kids” and how they have grown, went to Universities, amazing jobs and having families of their own now. Sometimes you don’t see it right away what difference you make, but one of my Thai students from a couple of years ago was very shy and was not social here in the States. A year later he told me that he was out with his family and he heard some Americans’ sightseeing and they were lost, he went up to them and talked to them in English and helped them find where they wanted to go. To me that made us proud of him and that we made a difference and gave him the courage to walk up and speak English in his own country. ❤️

B.  Iszler We’ve hosted daughters from Thailand, France and Sweden next year. We’ve learned so much about other cultures in the journey. I highly recommend hosting an exchange student to anyone who is willing to open their heart and their home to a very well mannered student.

T. L.  Hughes Absolutely the best learning and cultural experience a family can share!

T.  Fredricks We have hosted from Spain, Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Taiwan and in fall Italy. Our experience is hard to describe hosting as anything less than amazing. It has grown our family and encourages us to dare to be that “different” family! My children have learned so much about living with different cultures and customs. With each new student my husband and I always wonder if our heart is big enough for the task of hosting. However, each time we are left so proud of our international son or daughter of everything that was accomplished and our hearts are so full  and they leave as a member of our family…

S. Welch Great experience!! We hosted a boy from Spain. Even though we are miles apart, we are always close in the heart.

The Time is Now!

We all have the tools inside of us to help create a more peaceful world.  The tools are simply changing some habits, saving money for travel or participating in cultural exchange.

Learn More

To learn more about hosting an exchange student from  another country, or to consider the possibility of sending your high school aged student abroad, visit:  cetusa.org.