Can you imagine having all your kids studying abroad right when the coronavirus pandemic breaks out? That’s what happened to me: my oldest daughter is working on her Masters in Seattle, the next is studying architecture in Seoul, South Korea, and the two youngest are doing a high school exchange in Quebec Province, Canada. And to top it off, I’m an American living in Spain, where hospitals are overflowing into convention centers, and we are all on lockdown. So, no one is coming home right yet.
Has it been hard? Yes! But let the student exchanges go on! And not “in spite of” the pandemic, but because of the pandemic. This global health crisis is proof that we need international cultural exchanges at all levels, more than ever before. Here are four reasons why:
We Are All Interconnected
Did we need a pandemic to show us just how small the world has become? Our global economy has linked us together through work, study, travel, friendship and even marriage and children. Today we are one big family, sharing this planet. Student exchange – especially high school exchange – is a very special bonding ritual that makes globalization meaningful: two families from different points on the planet, share one of their members for ten months, and become one big trans-national family. And the bonds they create are actually a glue called Empathy, that binds us together through thick and thin.
I’m glad my daughters are making the best of their exchange experiences this year. And I trust that because of the special circumstances (not “in spite of them”), they will form very special bonds with people from around the world: their host families (or roommates), fellow students, friends, teachers and more.
Global Problems Need Global People
The Coronavirus is just one global problem. What about saving our earth? Feeding the hungry? Ending violence? Eradicating poverty? Global problems are everyone’s problems. And that means we need to work together with people from around the world who think, feel and act very differently than we do:
- People who have radically different belief systems.
- People with similar values, but in very different orders (and that’s the stuff conflicts are made of, by the way).
- People who solve problems in very different ways.
We need a global mindset to understand, value and use these differences to find solutions that work - globally. And that’s where international student exchange comes in again: youth is the ideal time to create true global citizens. These are the people that thrive on cultural diversity and actively seek out radically different perspectives in order to innovate – globally.
The World Needs Peace
This is what sparked student exchange after World Wars I and II: Peace! And now we wage war on a pandemic – but we can’t let that stop us from working on world peace. International exchange students are ambassadors around the world, sharing their cultures, learning new languages, spreading ideas, flavors, customs, values and even humor and smiles.
The pandemic may have won a small battle, ending many exchanges early this year. But student exchange will prevail, and it’s time to get ready for next year’s world peace ambassadors!
We Need Fresh Air
How does it feel to be cooped up inside our homes for weeks as we wait for flu season to end? That’s just a taste of how a very small world feels. Sure, we learn to savour the simple things, but after a while, there is nothing like fresh air and new horizons!
International student exchange is fresh air for our minds. When we host an exchange student, we bring new and different into our lives. We learn. We grow. We challenge our assumptions and stretch our imaginations, trying to understand the world upside down (like they do it “over there” on the other side of the globe). And the same goes for the student, as the winds of our culture blow into their minds, shaking up the ideas they brought with them from afar.
And what comes of all this? A world where we all feel at home, together, living, working, sharing, solving problems and building a future that works for our whole, great, big, global family.
And that’s why, even after all the hardship this year, I still believe in exchange. I’m happy my daughters are making the most of their exchanges – even in the middle of pandemic hot spots like Seattle and Seoul. And I will continue to promote youth exchange everywhere I go.
If you'd like to learn more about hosting an exchange student, please