I recently attended a conference with EF High School Exchange Year in our nation’s capital. More than 900 local coordinators, office staff and foreign staff were together for our annual gathering.
EF celebrated 40 years of bringing high school exchange students into the US. I have been associated with the organization for 10 years, currently hosting my 16th and 17th students. I often hear people say that I’m doing a great thing, but I brush it off and think to myself, it is nothing.
During the conference I realized it really is a great thing. Setting aside the impact it makes on a student and understanding the benefits it provides local families and students is where the excitement begins.
Our keynote speaker was Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce. She spoke about the importance of international exchange. Her unanimous Senate confirmation in March 2018 highlights the shared interest by all political spectrums.
Public diplomacy is the reason the international exchange program exists. When one student in America has a great experience with his or her family and school, that person shares the experience with family and friends at home. The more positive the experience, the more positive the image.
While this trip was all about business and meetings, we had little time to walk the streets of Washington, D.C. Bitter 18-degree walks at night through the monuments were well worth a sore throat and cough the next few days. I’m excited for the opportunity to return to D.C. in warmer weather and share the experience with my two students, Andre and Timo.
One stop I always go out of my way to make is the Vietnam War Memorial. No matter the cold, heat, snow or rain, I will always visit the wall. I have a personal connection to the wall that I will share in a future column. It is special to me and special to my family.
Hosting international exchange students has presented the opportunity for me to appreciate my country and our American way of life. Many things we take for granted and many things we still have yet to learn. My annual trip with my boys to D.C. is something I look forward to year after year.
I never tire of visiting the Capitol, I look forward to the hours of browsing through the many museums at the National Mall and I love the night strolls through the memorials. I am always excited to climb the hill in Arlington National Cemetery to reach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and I am proud to see the powerful impact it has on the faces of my students.
When May comes in a few short months and my boys are ready to pack their suitcases and return to their home countries, I know they will have succeeded in their exchange year and I will have succeeded as a host father. The experiences they have had are the embodiment of what the exchange program is all about.
Brent Miller is the editor and publisher of the Jackson County Sentinel. He can be reached at email@example.com.