Here at ACIS, our philosophy is based upon the phrase, “Travel Changes Lives.” This is what drives the student trips that we provide and the lasting impact that we want them to have. One way to experience how travel changes lives is to participate in or lead your very own ACIS Educational Tour, but you yourself do not need to be the one traveling to see how travel changes lives: you can see this philosophy come to life is by hosting an exchange student and welcoming them into your home.
Growing up, my family hosted a number of exchange students into our small New Jersey home. These experiences were extremely fun and educational for me, and they sparked my own passion to travel from a young age.
Early Experience with Cultural Exchange
At the time that my family hosted our first exchange student, I was only in middle school. I was told that someone was going to be staying with us for a few months that summer, but I wasn’t given much more information, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. My parents picked up our guest, Eulalie, from the airport, who had just journeyed the long 8 hour flight (plus time in customs) from France. We brought her to our home where we had a welcome sign and our guest bedroom all set up for her. Over the following days, weeks, and months, we showed her all of our favorite spots around town, the nearby beaches that we frequent each summer, New York City (which she had been aching to see) and Boston. We even got to celebrate the 4th of July and her 16th birthday together. I baked some festive cupcakes for the occasion which she was extremely impressed by (and which gave me some much needed confidence). While we did go on big, fun excursions with Eulalie, we oftentimes just relaxed in our small town and just spent time together. At the time, Eulalie was very similar in age to me and my older sisters, so it was super interesting to hear about how her experiences growing up in France differed from our experiences growing up in the states. We learned about her closest friends (who we got to meet on FaceTime), her family, unique French phrases, and which English words were the most difficult for her to pronounce (she decided that “schedule” and “squirrel” were simply impossible to say). It was these little moments that really had a lasting impact on me and which built our friendship.
Because of this first successful exchange experience, my family welcomed three more students to our home over the next few summers. We would show our new friends around our town and the neighboring areas, providing them with a chance to learn more about American culture. In return, I built lifelong friendships and developed my ability to connect with people across cultures and differences. While we went on similar outings with each student to give them them the most exemplary American summer possible, each experience was truly unique because of the different friendships we formed with our guests. Each person had different backgrounds, so I got to learn about each of their unique cultures. Even though they all came to the United States so they could have a new experience, their time here really impacted me because it made me see the world around me with new eyes as I watched them experience my mundane life, in my small New Jersey town, for the first time.
I am forever grateful for the relationships that I built with these exchange students. I have truly made lifelong friends from my exchange experiences. Having these students stay with us taught me about different cultures which broadened my horizons and made me want to experience these cultures first-hand. This sparked my passion for travel from a young age, and made me want to see the world. As I continue to travel on my own, I make plans to meet up with these friends in their home countries, so that I get to see their worlds through new eyes, and I can catch up with my worldwide friends.