“The map of the world is more than just a big poster on the wall. It represents people our children have come to love in countries they may have never heard of otherwise,” according to the Strain family of San Antonio, Texas when we asked what being a host family meant to them.
As summer begins for families around the United States, we would like to say thank you to the volunteer American host families who generously provided a home-away-from-home for one of nearly 2,000 high school exchange students from over 50 countries that are on State Department-sponsored exchange programs this year.
We should honor host families as citizen diplomats who gave of their time, energy, homes, and support to talented young people from another country. By sharing their culture, values, and daily lives, host families build life-long relationships.
In the next few weeks, I have the pleasure of seeing the faces and hearing the stories of our exchange participants before they board planes to go home. It is a favorite time of year. I marvel at the change and growth. Nervous and shy exchange students that we met at arrival have blossomed into brave, eloquent, independent future leaders. They challenged themselves, made lasting friendships, contributed to their communities with volunteer service, and shared their countries and cultures with their American peers.
We hear of host families who took them fishing for the first time, helped them become part of the varsity soccer team, taught independence skills to students with disabilities, brought them to their churches and mosques to share their own traditions, and even showed them how to build snowmen. Most importantly, our host families gave our exchange participants the nurturing and inspiration they needed to excel throughout the year, not just as guests, but as new members of their families.
State Department student exchange participants are amazing in their promise and what they bring to both their hosts and their home countries. In fact, winning a State Department-sponsored scholarship is more competitive than gaining admittance to a top U.S. university. These students are future leaders. What these youth learn at this formative age is life-changing and what they accomplish when they return strengthens their communities and teaches others what America is really like. None of this would be possible without the generous support of host families across the United States.
From the State Department family to our host families across the United States, thank you.