Many schools across the U.S. have embraced the common goals of “teaching diversity” and “modeling global awareness.” But in practice, these are challenging concepts to effectively impart to today’s fast-paced youth. We reached out to high school teachers and administrators across the country, who shared with us their thoughts about hosting exchange students. Many reported that hosting foreign exchange students is a simple way to encourage global awareness and introduce an international perspective in a very tangible, personal way.
Keith Mainland, World History and World Affairs Teacher at Monarch High School, Colorado
When I have an exchange student in class, I have them give a presentation about their country. We talk about cultural biases, both theirs and ours. We’re living in an ever-shrinking world, where a growing number of people have interactions with those from other countries, cultures, religions, and ideologies. It’s important that everybody starts to recognize their own cultural biases, and having an exchange student in class makes that discussion deeper and richer.
Kevin O’Neill, Vicksburg High School Principal, Michigan
As a principal, I truly appreciate the opportunity to host foreign exchange students on a yearly basis. The infusion of a variety of cultures into our high school has been a worthwhile experience for our students.
Erik Ostergren Westside, High School Dean of Students, Texas
Bringing exchange students into the school adds perspective to the classroom. I wish more of our kids could go on exchange themselves, but for most that’s just not an option right now. The only way they can get exposure to the world and develop global awareness is to have people from different countries come to them. In my classroom, we talk about global issues, like global warming. I tell my students that these issues effect the whole world, so they require a different perspective. And when students learn alongside international students, they start thinking about the world differently.
Gwendolyn Lukas-Doctor, Monarch High School Theater Teacher, Colorado
Our students learn that individuals from different countries may have different ways of expressing themselves, and they have to rise to the challenge of finding ways to communicate effectively. That’s an important skill for our students to grasp.
What we learn from these experiences is that, as French novelist Marcel Proust observed, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”
When a school welcomes exchange students into their student body, they invite a new way of seeing. American students who otherwise may not have had any truly “global” experiences are now able to come face-to-face with a new culture and a new perspective. This is no small accomplishment, which is why more and more schools see exchange students as a necessity among their student population.