This compelling article appeared in the Huffington Post in 2015. Written by Evan Ryan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, it was inspired by her meetings with some of the 170+ FLEX students who had gathered in Washington, DC at the end of their program. The two countries included in the A-SMYLE program, Serbia and Montenegro, became part of FLEX in 2016.
High school exchanges participants make a profound impact not only on their host families, schools, and communities, but ultimately on overall relationships with the citizens and governments of their countries. I recently was reminded of this as I met with students who were visiting Washington, D.C. to mark the end of their academic year exchanges.
The students from our Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), and the American-Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) programs, for example, contributed over 4,000 hours of community service during their exchange year in the United States, adding to the well over one million community service hours their FLEX and A-SMYLE peers have contributed before them.
Makhabat from Kyrgyzstan made it her goal to inspire religious tolerance among people of Christian and Muslim faiths, as she completed over 100 hours of community service at a food pantry, a soup kitchen, an elementary school, and other venues. Marija from Montenegro also completed over 100 hours of community service, including starting a fund-raising campaign for the people of Haiti after watching a documentary about living conditions there. Ilya from Russia, in addition to contributing almost 200 hours of community service, conducted 37 presentations about his home country, increasing understanding of its history and culture among his classmates and in his host community.
The students’ energy and enthusiasm demonstrated that the future of our global community will be bright.
As I met with students, I also heard about the importance of host families in creating a brighter future. American volunteer host families are a fundamental element of our exchanges – providing a home and a safe, nurturing environment where ideas, like the concept of volunteerism, can be shared and explored. As one host parent said: “Hosting is more than most people think. It’s adding a person to your family. It’s expanding your knowledge of other countries and cultures. It’s an everyday adventure that expands your horizons.” In short, hosting matters because it gives foreign youth firsthand experience of life in the United States and increases understanding between Americans and people of other countries.
The U.S. Department of State brings nearly 2,000 high school youth to the United States from over 50 countries each year through the FLEX, A-SMYLE, Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), and Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) programs. I invite American families to host a student from one of these programs in your home or school. Learn more through our #WhyHostingMatters campaign and at hosting.state.gov. You too can be personally inspired by these amazing students while contributing to relations between the United States and countries around the globe. And in the process, you will make your community a better place.
Follow Evan Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ECA_AS
Learn more about #WhyHostingMatters to FLEX students here!