While so far from home, culture shock is inevitable for many international exchange students.
However, by getting involved in their communities, Academic Year in America (AYA) exchange students overcome culture shock as they start to feel at home. Regenia, a Local Coordinator in Ohio, experienced this as she and her exchange students from 4 different countries volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House. She shares her story below:
This past November was filled with culture shock for many students in my area. We live in Ohio where the weather consists of gray filled skies, colder than average temperatures, rain, and snow. I reassured Emna from sunny Tunisia that sunny days are always on the horizon, but for days like these, we learn to trudge through.
Fortunately, for all of us, I planned a volunteer opportunity for the exchange students at the Akron, Ohio Ronald McDonald House in November. As part of his or her exchange year every AYA student must complete a minimum of 10 hours of community service. KLYES and FLEX scholarship students complete a minimum of 50 hours. My thought was to help the students celebrate holidays focused on gratitude, love and giving by serving others.
On November 25th, Emna (Tunisia), Meriem (Morocco), Nicole (Italy), Jasmin (Germany), my 17-year-old daughter, Sierra, and I spent the day at the Ronald McDonald House. We baked 11 dozen cut-out cookies complete with butter cream frosting in 3 ½ hours at the Ronald McDonald House volunteer kitchen. We packaged them per their storage guidelines in 4 aluminum containers placed in oversized storage bags. On top of the bags, the girls wrote the equivalent of “Good Appetite” in each of their first languages and included the English translation. They signed the bags “The AYA Team.” After cleaning the kitchen and returning all the cooking equipment to its proper places, the Ronald McDonald House staff gave us a tour of the facility and explained the good work they do there every day.
During their experience, the girls were challenged to work together to interpret English measurements of baking ingredients, roll and cut out the cookies, transfer them safely from the oven to the cooling racks, frost them, store them and clean up. I overheard them laugh and share stories with each other about the strange food they have been eating in the US, the common experiences in trying to “fit in” at their high schools, the exhausting experience of always speaking in a second language, and the joys of sharing life with their host families who they can’t imagine leaving in June. Spirits were lifted, culture shock forced out the door, and cookies were baked. It was community service in a multitude of ways.
After our day of service, we celebrated hard work with a delicious pizza dinner. During dinner, the girls shared photos from their phones and asked when we could get together again. They told me over and over, “thank you” for organizing the day for them and posted their gratitude to Instagram almost immediately after saying “goodbye”.
Spending the day with these beautiful young women from 5 different countries reminded me how valuable my time as a Local Coordinator and host Mom truly is.
Host families, schools and Local Coordinators house and nurture exchange students for 10 months. In return, we bear witness to the world coming together to support and encourage each other. We experience a glimpse of the optimism and promise of tomorrow. We are renewed with hope through our small acts of service.
Witness the world coming together for yourself: become a host family or Local Coordinator for Academic Year in America. Learn more today!