While many central Texans unwind during the last lazy days of summer, Teal Scott, an exchange student coordinator for iE-USA, is working overtime.
“We have over 35 students left looking for a host home before August 31,” shares Teal, “and I know so many of the families in our area will be so blessed by the chance to host! So I’m out there spreading the word!”
Teal loves making personal connections and providing hands-on support to each of her families, which is a trademark of iE-USA.
“We’re all about living real life together,” shares Texas Regional Director Susan Krneta. “Our families keep coming back because they love the close-knit bonds they form with these brave kids.”
Because iE is a small organization, we’re able to maintain unrivaled standards of care and quality, including selection, communication, and support. On-the-ground support from coordinators like Teal is just one tangible way iE strives to fulfill their mission to be “a unique organization where people come first.” And with a consistently “excellent” rating with the Department of State, each family and student is fully vetted, approved, trained and equipped – which means everyone gets started on the right foot!
Local host family Sid and Carren Cavanaugh of North Richland Hills have felt this support during their many hosting experiences with iE.
“The beautiful part about the whole thing is, it’s not a job. . . it’s an experience,” shares Sid. “You mentor them and guide them just like you would your own children, getting to learn each other’s cultures and continually growing together. Lifetime connections are made.” And with his classic coy smile, Sid added, “It must be a really good experience or we wouldn’t continue to host year after year!”
But what is it about iE that promotes such strong bonds? For over a decade, the focus of this family-oriented organization has been on quality, not quantity – which means every student receives a unique placement, and every host family works closely with a local coordinator to select just the right match. Host families can be any “shape and size,” from a single adults with no children, a family with young children, or an older retired couple. Hosts provide meals, a spare bed, and the basic logistical help any teenager would need. And since “real-life” cultural immersion is the goal, host families aren’t expected to provide extravagant vacations or lavish experiences – just the warmth of a family and a place to call “home!”
Potential hosts often have many of the same questions: “What if we’re traveling during the year?” or “What if we’re very busy?” or “What if I run into a difficult situation with my student?” And the answer to just about every one of these questions remains the same:
“We work with each person to find the best solution,” shares RD Susan Krneta, “whether that means working through travel logistics or troubleshooting a surprise issue. That’s one of the benefits of our smaller size – we really can support each placement on a case-by-case basis!”
Teal shares that the most exciting part of being an exchange coordinator is helping a student find a new home. And If “home is where the heart is,” then exchange student Nele from Germany has found new roots – and a new home – in a small Texas town she never guessed would so quickly captivate her heart. “Ponder is a small town, where everyone knows each other,” shares Nele, “and everyone was super excited to meet me!”
Nele, who stayed with the Klotz family, will always remember the special moments they shared together.
“My host family means a lot to me, they took me as their second child,” shares Nele, “I’m so lucky to have had them, and I hope that this relationship lasts for a life time!”
Since student exchange affects the whole community, many schools are taking notice of the obvious educational benefits. As the world becomes more and more integrated, “cultural competency” is an important new skill, with many schools actively working to equip their students for a global marketplace.
“Bringing exchange students into the school adds perspective,” shares Erik Ostergren, Dean of Students at Westside High School in Houston, TX. “The only way many of our students can get exposure to the world and develop global awareness is to have people from different countries come to them. And when students learn alongside international students, they start thinking about the world differently.”