Mother and daughter share their perspective
1) What inspired you to become an exchange student in the US?
A couple of my classmates from my boarding school in China were also in the YFU exchange program. They loved it! I too wanted to experience the same opportunity as well. I knew that this experience would help me become more independent and stronger and would make my friends and teachers very proud. I thought that the exchange program would have help Americans realize that Chinese people are fun and easy people to get along with. I hoped this experience will show that I’m an outgoing person with a sunshine personality.
2) What were your expectations before coming on program? How was life different than what you expected?
I expected my English to improve and build strong relationships with American friends from school and my host family. I also anticipate that through this experience I will become more mature.
I actually made more friends than I expected. I was part of my school’s soccer team and participated in many school activities, all of which made me realize that I am very outgoing. I was fortunate in that I was able to travel around the United States to see different states. My host family was wonderful; my host mom is like a second mother to me. She is very caring and loving.
3) At what moment did you stop feeling like a visitor and start feeling like a member of the community?
I always felt as if I was a member of the community. Prior to coming to America, I used to SKYPE my host mom and she introduced me to the members of the family and showed and talked to me about life in Iowa City. My school had already known about my arrival before I came. So I got a lot of attention, which made me feel at home too. The kids from my church were also super excited for me to join them and to become a member of the community.
4) What important lesson did you learn while on program?
I learned several lessons while on the program. I learned how to adjust to a new and different environment. I learned that being confident and happy with a positive attitude attracts more friends. You never know when good things might happen, so you need to be prepared at anytime. This helped me realize that participating in activities can be a form of character building and making and meeting friends. I gained lots of lessons on communication. I learned to never be shy and that it’s OK to make mistakes or ask questions. My host mom also explained that in order to know, you must ask. I’m now never afraid to talk or communicate with others. I learned that the closest people to me were my host family members. I never hide any of my feelings or anything from them, especially my host mom.
5) What did you learn about yourself during the past year?
I learned and appreciated my actual family more after the program. I realized how much they love me and how hard it was to allow me to come to a foreign country for a whole year without them. Prior to coming to the states, I thought that I was perfect to be a foreign exchange student. I know now that perfection is not easy to come by, but that the way to get better is from experience and learning.
6) How will this experience change you as a person?
This experience taught me how to be a strong young woman. I also learned how to become more independent. This experience gave me more ideas about the American educational system, which will hopefully prepare me for college. The program overall taught me how to appreciate and value family. I gained a greater love for both my host family and actual family.
Thoughts from Su’s Host Mother Jan Buckman
1) What inspired you to host an international student?
I love studying cultures and traveling domestically and abroad, so when I was asked to host a student, I didn’t hesitate to say yes! Years ago as a graduate student, I was the first student to be sent abroad on an academic exchange program. I was left on my own with no support, and the host families were not screened. It was not a happy experience. After I returned, I promised myself that I would do whatever I could to make other exchange students’ experiences a successful and happy one.
2) What were your expectations before the hosting year began? Was the experience different from what you expected?
Based on my own experience as an exchange student, I expected that that they would arrive feeling excited, apprehensive, fearful and hopeful. The experience wasn’t very different from what I expected, but I think if I hadn’t already lived abroad, my expectations would have been different.
2) What important lessons did you learn while hosting?
The most important lesson – and this is an ongoing process – is better communication. Sometimes it’s hard to open up discussions about sensitive or difficult topics, but the earlier they can be addressed, the less chance of the stress and misunderstanding building up to a crisis. One of the phrases we use a lot in my house is, “If no one tells you, how are you supposed to know?”
4) At what point did Su become a part of your family?
Su became a part of our family almost immediately. She embraced new customs and habits, and enjoyed sharing her own with us. She freely shared her fears and joys with us, trusted us to look out for her interests, she showed an interest in our lives and family, and made herself a beloved family member rather than a boarder in our home. She has become a true daughter to us and will always have a special place in our hearts. We know she needs to return to her life in China, but she will leave a huge hole in our hearts. We’ll miss her terribly. She has brought so much joy and laughter to our lives this year!
5) What did you learn about yourself during the exchange year?
I learned that even though I am in the business of communication (a former professor and social worker), I can always improve my communication skills.
6) How will this experience change you as a person?
It continues to fuel my passion for international exchange and travel. The more I get to know the students and learn about other cultures, the more I want to experience them for myself.
Photos reprinted with permission of Amy Barker Photography
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