John Jones is a proud Texan, military veteran, and father, but not just any ordinary dad. In addition to his biological children, John has hosted 47 more sons and daughters – from countries across the world, through Department of State-sponsored exchange programs.
John is a long-standing host parent for U.S. State Department-sponsored exchange students -- one of the thousands of Americans who open their homes and their hearts to international high school students each year. It’s a unique form of people-to-people diplomacy that enables families to form enduring personal bonds and expand their cultural horizons.
“There were some ulterior motives in my decision to host exchange students,” John said. “When my grown son first went away, I wanted to make him jealous so he’d come back home, but it didn’t work. So I was stuck then, and it grew on me and I liked doing it.”
This year, John is hosting two students on State Department youth scholarships -- Andrian, a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) participant from Moldova, and Khaled, a Youth Exchange and Study (YES) participant from the Palestinian Territories.
Andrian and Khaled spoke about how John had become like family to them, making their transition to the United States much easier. “Well, I wasn’t one of the people that thought that in Texas everyone rides horses,” said Andrian, smiling. “But I thought that it was going to be more like we see in the movies. But, of course, it was totally different. People here are very open.”
As John began to host more and more students, he realized exactly the sort of impact he was making beyond providing a nurturing home experience. “I want to make a positive difference in the lives of our future citizens,” he said. “I learned that I needed to quell a lot of misperceptions about students from other countries.”
Since Andrian and Khaled attend public high school as part of their programs, they are also helping American students learn more about international cultures – all without ever leaving their home communities. High schools like the one that Andrian and Khaled attend welcome the opportunity to host exchange participants, since it helps prepare their students to become better global citizens.
“When we just come and explain ourselves, Americans learn more and think more genuinely about other people,” said Khaled.
Despite all of his years of experience hosting students, there is always one moment that John has difficulty facing.
“You know, I’m a pretty stout 31-year military veteran. We’re tough, right? But at the airport, when you have to say goodbye to these students that you’ve become attached to, that is one of the hardest things to encounter. And you just want to go and cry,” he said.
The State Department and our implementing partners are currently seeking host families and schools across the country for the 2017-2018 academic year and beyond to host Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), and Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program high school students in U.S. communities. To learn more, visit hosting.state.gov and follow #HostforAmerica on social media.
About the Author: Michelle Neyland serves as Communications Campaign Manager in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.
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