When I was 12 years old, the whole trajectory of my life changed when my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Yokohama, Japan. Before meeting Mina I had never really given much thought to the way people lived outside of my neighborhood, and all I knew about life in other countries came from National Geographic. It never occurred to me that someone living in another country might have anything at all in common with me.
While Mina’s English skills left much to be desired, we were able to communicate, play games with each other and learn from each other. I learned that Japanese kids like the same things American kids do. They are not all perfect, and they do not all love to study. I learned that our cultures are different in many ways, but our similarities far surpassed our differences. And, most importantly, I learned that my entire worldview had to shift beyond my neighborhood because there was a big world out there for me to discover. I may not have realized that I was learning those things at the time, but I do know that my life was never the same after Mina left. I found myself asking more questions about the world and developing a passion for travel (a passion that I would not fulfill for a number of years, but nevertheless was there). My family continued hosting students after Mina, and my husband and I have been hosting in our home for years now, too. My love of travel has continued to grow, and every new country I visit, and every foreigner I come in contact with expands my worldview even more.
I am passionate about foreign exchange because I have seen what an impact it can have on people. Each student we host leaves behind pieces of themselves in our lives, and the world becomes a little smaller.