Are you fascinated by international cultures? As an AYA Local Coordinator, you can share America with the world by helping international exchange students come to the United States to live with American families and attend American high schools.
In our “Meet an AYA Local Coordinator” series, we look at the people behind the success of our exchange students. Today we hear from AYA Local Coordinator Melissa, who runs a cluster in Georgia, about her experience working with exchange students and host families.
Meet Melissa, AYA Local Coordinator for Georgia:
What’s the best part of being a Local Coordinator?
Melissa: The best part about being a Local Coordinator is kind of multi-layered. I love building a community among host families. It’s really fun to bring like-minded people together and have them host. I love my children experiencing different cultures right within their own home. And I love the relationships I build with exchange students. I’ve supervised over 75 students and keep in touch with a lot of them and so eight years later there’s just a lot of shared life experiences […]. When things happen like natural disasters or wars it’s very personal for me because I have built these relationships with people around the world.
What sparked your interest in becoming a Local Coordinator?
Melissa: The thing that sparked my interest in becoming a Local Coordinator was the travel. When I first started, the idea of traveling and having this benefit of learning about other cultures and then experiencing it myself was something that was really interesting to me. I had never traveled outside of the US before becoming a Local Coordinator, and now I’ve been to Europe numerous times and Central America. So, having those experiences is super beneficial.
What methods have you used to find new host families?
Melissa: The thing that has worked for me in finding new host families is word of mouth and hosting myself. We’ve hosted two exchange students as a family and having incredible students in our home that meet our neighbors, that are active in our community, that attend our local high school is the best way to find new host families. Additionally, running things like Facebook ads and joining groups to promote it is super, super helpful. But the best way to find host families is really through […] having community members interact in a natural way with exchange students that are already here.
What makes a great Local Coordinator?
Melissa: Some of the things that make a great Local Coordinator are flexibility, an ability to sit and listen to a student, [and] just the becoming a friend, a mentor […], the willingness to slow down, and just have conversations, and really see another person’s point of view so that people feel heard and seen. The same is true with host families. Host families want to know that you’re in it with them, that you can sit next to them across the table when they’re frustrated and hear what their concerns are. So flexibility and an ability to be a good listener are incredible qualities to have.
What’s your favorite part about attending a National Meeting?
Melissa: My favorite part of a national meeting is the relationships I’ve built with other Local Coordinator. They have become some of my dearest and closest friends […] We communicate throughout the year and really support and encourage each other. To have us all be able […] travel the world together, seeing each other once a year at these different spots has created […] a lifelong bond of just being able to have these shared experiences.
What is a National Meeting like?
Melissa: If someone has not experienced AYA’s National Meeting before, I would explain it as a way to really motivate and inspire you to carry you through the rest of your year. Every time that I come to the National Meeting, I leave really motivated and excited about placing more students, about being a part of this larger community that’s impacting the world, about bringing the world together. All of those things are talked about and kind of given legs to or a structure to when you’re at the National Meeting, and it’s just really energizing to take that home and be able to carry out that mission.
What is the biggest benefit to international education and exchange?
Melissa: I would say the biggest benefit to international education and exchange is the ability to see somebody else’s point of view. There are so many times that we live in this bubble of our own culture and community, and we forget that there’s this big world around us. So, to have different perspectives come into the same room and challenge, motivate, and change your belief system based on preconceived ideas about a culture group or a country—it’s an incredible lifelong work that has a ripple effect as we kind of change the trajectory of preconceived ideas.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.
Interested in becoming an AYA Local Coordinator?
AYA is looking for passionate individuals like Melissa across the United States. Becoming a Local Coordinator is a rewarding opportunity to build your personal and professional network by providing support to international students, host families and your own community.