State Magazine February 2013 : Page 19

isolation, financial vulnerability and hopelessness. The center’s basic literacy program provided them with an opportunity to focus on matters, such as reading and discussion sessions, that “fostered community and honed their hidden abilities and talents,” she said. Another exchange program alumnus, a Kenyan student named Mwalimu who was in the 2011-2012 YES program, raised almost $25,000 for a well for his village. With support from his American host community in Iowa and fellow ECA-sponsored exchange students, his village now has clean, running water for the first time. He also wrote a children’s book about his childhood in Kenya, “Mwalimu’s Dream,” which highlights the need for clean, safe drinking water, which more than one billion people on the planet lack. Mwalimu said he was overwhelmed by Americans’ support for his village Above: Aleksa, second from left, a student in the A-SMYLE exchange, takes a break from skiing with his host family. Photo by American Councils ; Left: Ridho, center, a YES exchange student from Indonesia, is all smiles with his Arizona host parents, Kelly and Charlotte Loomer. Loomer family photo well. “As the fundraising began, checks came from Christians, Jewish people and Muslims,” he said. “It’s a very good thing, because people of all faiths will drink from this new well. I am so thankful Americans are so generous and willing to help me. Even after my village gets a well, my dream continues for others who have this same need.” The exchanges, which benefit Americans as much as those in the youths’ home nations, emphasize students’ interactions with their host communities. They embrace volunteerism—a new concept for many—and take it home with them. Last year, youth exchange students logged more than 70,000 community-service hours. Americans benefit, too, by learning about other cultures as hosts to foreign participants and by becoming exchange participants themselves. A 15-year-old student named Jane, who came from Bethlehem, on the West Bank, to live in St. Paul, Minn., for a year, was the ninth youth hosted by Courtney Bassil. Hosting helps clear up misconceptions and break stereotypes, she said. “Students will go back to their home countries and share experiences of community service and cultural tolerance,” said Simone Bak, the placement specialist with Youth For Understanding, USA, one of ECA’s partners. “We tell them right off the bat that they’re cultural ambassadors.” Bak added that some of the youths come from countries having negative views of the United States, but will return to their homelands to “tell people what our country really is like. “We’re actually making a difference,” she said American youths learn from the visitors. A Montana high school teacher named Derek Schulz said the exchange program youth in his class from Pakistan generated an interest in his region and religion. “I wish we could have these types of students come here every year.” A rural Wisconsin high school teacher, Ron Maroszek, concurred. “The only way that kids can completely understand diversity is to know there are other people in the world who are like them. They are teenagers, but come from a different background, situation and location. Kids need to know that, and the only way they know that is by having foreign exchange students come to their school and communities to talk about what their life is like, share their experience and vice versa.” These programs affect attitudes over lifetimes and generations. Exchanges provide foreign audiences a context for understanding American policies that might otherwise be misunderstood. They also foster trust, confidence and cooperation among individuals and with other countries, sustaining and advancing American national interests. The lifelong relationships exchange students make with Americans endure, as do the new skills and values alumni take home. To learn more about hosting an exchange student or ECA exchange scholarships for American high school students, visit STATE.GOV/STATEMAG // STATE MAGAZINE 19

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