Life Abroad

“Being a coordinator is like having the whole world in your hands.”

Elli from Germany with her host family and coordinator Diana

Elli from Germany with some of her host family and coordinator Diana

Diana joined Aspect Foundation in 2015, where she had a successful season finding her first host families. She’s currently halfway through her first year of supervising and was excited to talk about the experience. We’re grateful to Diana for her experiences, advice, and encouragement!

GETTING STARTED

I came on board a little late in the season, so at first it was difficult to start finding families because I didn’t know anyone in the schools to help me get started. The first season is all about being able to get yourself out there. You’re introducing yourself as a coordinator to everyone, and talking about Aspect, and kind of marketing the idea of hosting a student. While I started by talking to friends and family, pretty soon I was talking to people I didn’t know. My son graduated high school years ago, so I no longer knew teachers or officials or counselors. Pretty soon, everyone sees you coming and knows what you’re doing! They know what you’re going to ask. And at first, I heard a lot of “no” and that was discouraging. But you have to find a way to just keep asking. Who cares if they say no? Don’t take it personally. They don’t know who you are! They don’t know how awesome exchange is, they don’t know what they’re missing out on. I realized, “Okay. I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to keep trying.” In the end, I just did everything Aspect told me to do: I talked to my church. I talked to the schools and the principals, and they were really helpful for me. Once, I asked a principal if I could put some flyers in the teachers’ mailboxes in the lounge, and the principal did it for me! Everybody told me flyers wouldn’t work, but I sent them out anyway – but, surprise, they didn’t work, haha! Instead, what worked was getting out into the community and talking to churches, clubs, the PTA, and so on. What really worked was getting my very first “YES.” That felt amazing! That one student, that one family made me ready to roll, ready to push on. You want to keep going. You have to keep going!

Diana's students with their host families.

Diana’s students with their host families.

SUPERVISING MY FIRST STUDENTS

I love it, I love it, I absolutely love it! I was so nervous before the kids arrived because now everything I’d learned and read along the way had to come into play. But I can honestly say: IT’S FUN! It’s fun because I’ve met host parents who have now become my friends. We’re not strangers! But you have to be more than someone who just makes those phone calls once a month and plans activities.

She did a great job letting us know if there are any issues that would come up she is right there. – Host Parent

Every single thing that Aspect said would happen DID happen. Culture shock, homesickness, it all happened, believe it! I had to work with my students and parents and bring everyone together to find a solution. But now? The parents will call me anytime. The kids call me or text me. I’ll pick the girls up on a weekend and say, “Let’s go eat!” “Let’s see a movie!” It’s important to me that they all know each other and contact each other because they’re my group – my team! My students don’t just have their host families for support, they have me and they have each other. I love the relationship I have with them. They listen to me when I tell them something and they do it. Sometimes families just need to hear their coordinator say, “What can I do for you? How can I make this year even better?” My students know that when they call me, I’ll be there for them.

THE EXCHANGE YEAR

I’m blessed to have 5 exceptional kids in my group. They’re all doing so well. They’re on the honor roll, and I’ve gotten letters from schools, from teachers, saying what a delight it is to have our students in their schools! It’s amazing to me. That’s a great feeling for any coordinator.

I feel like I can talk about anything with Diana. – Nora from the Netherlands

We’ve already had so much fun together. The school had a week when all the kids had to dress up, and one of my students dressed as Clark Kent and looked just like him. My other student was Goldilocks. They sent me pictures and asked me to come over and see their costumes because they were so excited! Last month, we all went to a Middle Eastern festival where we learned about the region’s history and culture and food. And of course, I took my kids to the Mall of America and they loved that! But it isn’t just the big events. Last weekend the kids went curling for the first time and had a ball! One of my girls came up and asked, “When are we having another girls night?” and I thought, “Ooh! Okay! Let’s see if we can find a Saturday soon!”

Clement from France at Diana's curling outing

Clement from France at Diana’s curling outing

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

You develop this amazing connection with the kids, even as a coordinator. At first, I was a little jealous on arrivals day, when all the host families got to go home with their new student and I drove back to my house alone. But now, they’re part of my family too. My son’s in college and loves my group of kids. When he was back for the holidays, my son came with us on our cultural activity trip and got to know them all. He was so interested to learn about their backgrounds and their countries. When he had to leave at the end of the break, all the kids shook his hand and he told me, “Mom – you’ve got a great bunch!”

And it changes host families, too. My German girl’s family has a number of younger children. It’s been great to see the younger kids grow to understand this new person in the home, and to be patient and curious with someone who does things differently than they do. And the parents have grown too! They have a younger teenager, and hosting our German girl has given them an idea of what to expect as their own daughter grows up.

ADVICE FOR NEW COORDINATORS AND FAMILIES

Be positive, be patient, be prepared. Learn about the countries your students are coming from so there are fewer surprises! It’s great to read about your students’ countries before they arrive, and they’ll really appreciate that you made the effort.

I have one of my new families for next year getting ready to start on the paperwork. I’ve invited two of my current host families to come speak with my new family. My current families are going to introduce themselves to this new family and share a little bit about their experiences.

Alexander from Germany on a trip to a museum

Alexander from Germany on a trip to the museum

A YEAR OF GROWTH

Being a coordinator is like having the whole world in your hands. It’s so nice to have France here! It’s so nice to have Germany and the Netherlands and Norway here! You learn so much from these kids and it makes YOU want to travel. I’m hoping to work with a student from anywhere in the world. Working with the students makes YOU grow. The experience has helped me to see kids from other countries in a completely different light. You have to be the kind of person who loves travel and people and work, and loves working with an international scope.

Every single student is unique, and they all have a unique history and background. You’ll realize how big this world is when you get involved with kids whose countries are different from our own. But at the same time, the world gets smaller – now, when I travel to other countries, my students ask me to meet their mom!

As a coordinator, you’re involved with the entire family. It’s sometimes a little shaky at the start but oh my gosh, is it satisfying. Often I’m meeting up with the other coordinators nearby, getting all of our kids to meet up together.

Being a coordinator will change your life. You become a part of your students’ lives and their culture, even after they go home. You don’t want to just call your kids once a month and be done with it – you miss out on what makes it exciting and fun!


Interested in sharing YOUR corner of the world with an international exchange student? Learn more about becoming a host family at: http://aspectfoundation.org/host-families.