IC Spotlight / Life in the U.S.

Meet our International Coordinator – Nicole from Michigan!

For our IC Spotlight, we’d like you to meet one of our wonderful International Coordinators at Aspect Foundation! Her journey with us has been about the simple joys – the heartwarming stories shared by students after they’ve returned to their home country, the positive impacts of guiding and supervising them, and the connections she formed with our students. From her own experience of having an exchange sibling to traveling the world with Aspect, read more about why she became an International Coordinator!

Nicole (left) and Megan (front) on the softball team at Anchor Bay High School, Fair Haven, Michigan, 1991.

Q: Why did you become an International Coordinator?

Our family hosted an exchange student when I was in high school. When Megan, my friend, began placing and hosting, I was a huge champion for her. I became a coordinator after watching Megan for several years and vacationing with Aspect. Since then, I have gone on many Aspect training trips as Megan’s plus 1 and really got to know the people behind the organization. When I moved home, I had said that I was going to start placing and being a coordinator too, because I thought it was such a cool experience getting to know the kids, even as an adult. I really believe in exchange and making the world a little smaller. Tolerance and empathy come from not being strangers. Knowing someone from that area of the world really furthers that mission. I’ve been a coordinator now for 5 years. It’s been such a great experience.

Nicole with her host sibling, Megumi from Japan, at the Hard Rock Cafe (left image) and Megumi’s graduation from Anchor Bay High School (right image), 1992.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a coordinator?

I enjoy the stories from after they’ve left the most – like when I get a call after they’ve left, and they are missing here as much as they missed home when they first arrived. I kind of love that moment. They didn’t know that they were ever going to get there at the beginning. Like it’s such a strange or odd juxtaposition to witness where they started to where they get to on their journey. They don’t realize at the beginning when it’s so hard, and they’re missing home, how much is going to change. So when they get home, and suddenly, I’m getting messages and phone calls of “oh my gosh, it’s so different here and it doesn’t feel the same anymore, and I missed all the things.”

Nicole (left) and Aimee (front right) with Nina from Belgium (center) and Nina from Germany (back right) during a fun road trip, 2020.

I like that they really realize that they’re never going to get to have that experience again. I had it with a FLEX student specifically where it very much changed her outlook on what life is like at home. She got home realizing that she’s not the same person anymore and seeing it in her family and her extended family hearing those opinions and realizing she didn’t agree with them anymore. Seeing the programs change the kids is a huge motivator for me.

Q: What is your favorite memory with your student(s)?

Favorite memory with the students isn’t just one. I love when the students get involved with the volunteering part of the exchange. It really makes an impact on the community. If I had to pick one memory though, it’s a text on Christmas Eve from a student that moved homes. He thanked me for finding him this family and told me he didn’t know strangers could be so kind and care so much. It really touched my heart and made me remember why this work matters so much.

Jule from Germany with an adorable rescue during a walk in Fair Haven, Michigan, 2019.

I also took one of the students I was supervising during my first year on Christmas Eve to the animal shelter to drop off donations. It was like our common bonding thing throughout the year for her and in the spring, we went and checked out a dog from the shelter for a day adventure. We spent the day in the city taking the dog all around and got to see the dog get adopted a week later! So, it’s all the things that we did to help the dog, but also, the family she was living with didn’t have any pets, so when we would go and do things with animals, it was something that she really appreciated.

Q: What keeps you coming back to supervise? 

I love getting to know the students. I love hearing at the end of the year how they’ve changed and what they’ve learned. The self-awareness that the students learn on exchange is invaluable as a life skill that will be used forever. And now it feels like I’ve learned so much, I want to share that with the next group of kids. 

Nicole celebrating voting with Meline from France (right), 2022.

Q: As you previously mentioned, you have also been a part of the Aspect trips. What does that mean to you, being a part of this group that not only brings people to the US but also explores the world?

I honestly think that some of the best vacation moments that I have had, the most memorable moments I’ve had on vacation, have been on Aspect trips with all those special people around me – people that I never, in a million years, would have crossed paths with otherwise. There are moments like sitting in that little village in Peru that I will never forget, and the people that shared those moments with me. The vacations felt so extravagant, and they definitely still do. It’s such a perk and a wonderful experience. I wouldn’t have had the same experience if I didn’t go on them with Aspect. It’s not what you would normally do on a vacation. It’s very special.

Nicole (left) with Megan (right) at a cafe in Peru during an Aspect trip, 2014.

When you find families, make sure that it’s people that you’re going to want to be surrounding yourself with for the year, too. You don’t realize how much time you’re really going to be spending interacting with those families and those students, getting to know them on such a different level. Learning how a family operates and what their lifestyle is determines how you help a student thrive there. I think getting to know the students is invaluable, especially if you don’t have kids of your own. They really become your extra kids, like your extra nieces and nephews. You care about them and you want them to succeed, so you really cheer them on throughout the year. Seeing them get it is a really cool moment, when you see all of it clicking in and all of the hard work they put in at the beginning really starts to pay off! They’ve gotten friends and they’re doing things, they’re active and they’re successful. It’s really cool to see.

Nicole (burgundy shirt) and Aimee (blue shirt) with Nina from Belgium (grey sweater) and Nina from Germany (striped shirt), also known as “Nina2“, stopping in Vegas during a road trip, 2020.

Q: Do you have any stories as an International Coordinator?

My student, Romane from France, was living with Aimee, but she initially wasn’t sure if she was going to do exchange. She was following some of the WEP kids on Instagram. One of them in particular was Marie from France. She was one of Megan’s students last year, so she was following Marie and was super excited. That was partly why she decided to exchange. She was watching Marie’s Instagram stories and some of her stories got picked up by another big exchange student account on Instagram. She was also following Nina, who is Belgian. She was watching Nina and Marie through their second semester having all this fun.

Nina from Belgium (left) and Marie from France (right) graduating from Anchor Bay High School, 2021.

When Aimee said “yes, I’m going to host Romane” and I sent everything through, she saw the high school’s name and knew that she was going to the same school where she had watched these girls graduate from and all the things that convinced her to be an exchange student. She had been watching and was literally getting to live in the same bedroom that Nina was living in, so she talked to Nina and they connected in that way.

I sent Romane a message, and she was like, “I already talked to Nina, and because her dad, originally was like, ‘Well, we definitely want to talk to the coordinator’, but then he said, ‘Oh yeah, no, we talked to Nina, so it’s okay, everything’s fine.'” This was crazy because of how many kids do an exchange every year in the US. And obviously, not all through Aspect but then the one account that she’s paying attention to that convinces her to exchange. Marie and her family, like her thank you letter that was featured last year. I just think that story and like that relationship that has grown out of it has been something neat.

Nicole (left) with Aimee (second to left), Romane (light green) from France, Maartje from the Netherlands, and Fabio from Italy at a football game in Michigan, 2021.

When Romane was homesick at the beginning of the year, like literally, that first week she was having such a hard time. She didn’t call her family; she called Nina, and she reached out to say, “I miss home so much. I miss my family.” And I mean, you know the beauty of it is that Nina knows what it’s like to be in that situation. She knows all that you know, and she knows Aimee so well. Nina could help Romane more than almost anyone in that moment. How lucky to have that person to help her.

Maartje from the Netherlands with Romane from France as she graduates from Anchor Bay High School, 2022.

Q: What advice would you give a new Coordinator?

Ask questions. Host. Ask for help. Talk about exchange! I think a lot of people get worried about being told no, but if you don’t ask, it’s always no. You’re robbing them of the chance to say yes if you never ask. One of my favorite students was placed with an elementary school friend of mine because I read a profile and thought of their family. She had never approached me about exchange, never liked posts, never gave any indication that they would be interested. But she read the student letter that I sent and suddenly, the family was all-in.

Nicole (second from the left, back row) and Megan (second from the left, middle row) with their students at Starbucks. They are joined by Megan’s mom and her friends as they warm up with fresh coffee in Michigan, 2023.

Would you also like to work with students from across the world? We are always looking for great candidates in many communities, large and small, across the U.S. For more information about the International Coordinator position and how to apply check out our website!