Local Coordinators are truly the unsung heroes of student exchange: they find host families, mentor students, and offer seamless support throughout the exchange year. The gift they give students and families during this time is priceless!
But it doesn’t end there.
Many find that they gain just as much as they give, and that working with exchange students has filled their hearts as well as their bank accounts.
Carolyn Kitzmiller has been with iE since 2010, and she has worked with and hosted many students during that time.
“I do it for the kids,” she shares. “The relationship and the culture, everything about it is so rewarding for me.”
Carolyn loves to show her students new things and to watch the joy of discovery: as they get ready for their first American prom, attend their first high school football game, accept their first invitation to a movie with friends, and even as they learn to navigate our everyday slang!
“A Thai girl that I welcomed,” remembers Carolyn, “came in the room, and I said ‘get your shoes on, we’ve gotta run to the store!’ Well, she got her tennis shoes and asked ‘how far do we have to run, miss?’ She had never heard that expression before! She thought we were going for a jog! We had such a good laugh together.”
It’s a joy to watch students grow and mature, and that’s one of Carolyn’s favorite parts of working in exchange. She shared a story of one student who struggled more than usual with spoken English, but he was quickly able to gain better fluency during his stay. Years later, when pursuing his dream job in finance, he was able to demonstrate his superior English ability and he GOT THE JOB – because his experience as an exchange student gave him a new skill that set him apart!
“It’s just the best feeling to be a part of someone’s life story,” Carolyn reflected. “In the big things and the funny little things. It shows that deep down, we’re all the same.”
And because she has lasting bonds with virtually every student she’s ever worked with, Carolyn has enjoyed many return visits as well as trips overseas to see “her kids” again.
“I’ve been all over Europe, and every time we go my kids try to come and see me – it’s the neatest thing and I always feel so special,” Carolyn remembers.
Charlene Corwin, a host family and local coordinator in Michigan, echos Carolyn’s sentiments. She feels working with exchange students is the perfect way to look outside of our own everyday “hustle and bustle.”
“All the students and families I’ve worked with have touched my life in some way,” she remembers.
“It’s given me a chance to meet new people in my local area, and watching the love and connection that grows between students and their families is just amazing!”
Charlene shares that part of her role is to help students and families work through problems and struggles along the way, and that it’d be unrealistic to expect anything less. When we’re dealing with real relationships, of course there can be adjustment, misunderstandings, etc! But the beauty in this real-life, everyday commitment is the BOND that forms – which often lasts far beyond the exchange year.
“Working as an LC is definitely the gift that keeps on giving!” shares Charlene.
“I still talk with students from previous years. They know they’re always welcome in my home for a visit and my ear is open to listen. I mean, just think about it: we’re building life long relationships with people all over the world!!”
Kathy Kendall, a retired teacher and middle school basketball coach, agrees. Kathy has a passion for her community and for youth, and it shows! She rescued an old school building and re-purposed it as a community center, a safe and encouraging place to engage kids in sports and keep them off the streets. It’s fitting, then, that her work with exchange students serves as one more way to build into the community!
Kathy knew the value of exchange from her time as a host parent and was eager to pass it along.
“When Brian [Kathy’s oldest] left for college, there was a void,” remembers Kathy. “Having exchange students during that time was exactly what my younger girls needed. But the hard part was having to send them home at the end – because they had become a part of us, and it felt like something was missing as soon as they got on that plane.”
As a local coordinator, Kathy relishes the opportunity to share the meaningful relationships exchange can offer with others in her community. And of course, like Charlene, she enjoys the relationships she forms with each and every student while they’re here.
“I feel like they’re mine,” shares Kathy, “except they just don’t sleep here!!”
Though she is a new local coordinator this year, Jennifer Glass feels the same. She has already found that her work with exchange students has more profound meaning than she initially would have guessed!
“I have met some very diverse and beautiful families,” shares Jennifer. “I have great respect for their tolerance and love of each other. That has really made an impression on me.”
Jennifer explained that her local community is very rural and “traditional,” so an influx of different cultural backgrounds (by way of exchange) is so very enriching.
“The students add SO much, and their presence truly has a ripple effect. They share, on such an intimate basis, one another’s culture. It’s a gift in so many ways!”
Jennifer realizes that her work will positively shape future generations, which is one more reason to celebrate! She cherishes the opportunity to be part of something bigger: of boosting cultural understanding, developing a level of respect across countries, and facilitating empathy and peace in a time when it’s needed more than ever.
Have YOU ever considered becoming part of something bigger? Consider taking a step that will have a lasting impact, and giving YOURSELF the “gift that keeps on giving.”
To learn more about becoming a local coordinator, visit iE-USA.org.