Dan Hall: Make your personal contribution to world peace
A couple of weeks from now, dozens of families throughout Rochester and the Finger Lakes will have a wrenching experience: It will be time to part with the high-school foreign exchange students they’ve learned to love as new “sons” or “daughters” over the past year.
Having done this twice ourselves, my wife, Diane, and I know what it’s like: You take them to a mall or to a Thruway exit where a bus is waiting. You all promise, as you have many times before, that you will see each other again. There’s a last, tearful good-bye, they climb aboard the bus, and then they are gone. You wonder if you ever really will see them again.
Sometimes, of course, the distance is too great. At first, letters, e-mail, and phone calls fly back and forth across the oceans. Then they become more infrequent, and finally only memories remain.
More often, I think, the bonds stay strong. Just recently, I read in the paper of a family in Victor and a family in Chile who have maintained a close relationship over the past 30 years.
Diane and I have been blessed. Both our exchange “kids” have remained very much a part of our lives.
Last year we visited our “daughter” in Thailand, and she plans someday to bring her parents for a visit here. Around Mother’s Day last month, she telephoned us. She said she was using a pay phone and that she had only a few coins in her pocket. She had time only to say, “I love you and mom,” and then the phone went dead.
Our “son” from China has given us a front-row seat on a new chapter in his life. After his year with us, he went back home to finish high school in China. He is back now, as a student at Rochester Institute of Technology. He lives on campus, but comes home to us during most holidays. His mother and father sent us a wonderful letter this past Christmas, thanking us for becoming his “second parents.” We wrote back, telling them what a gift it is to watch him growing into a man. We look forward to meeting them when they come for his graduation from RIT.
The two largest exchange organizations in our region, AFS and Rotary, have been finding it more difficult in recent years to find families willing to host students from abroad. That is not entirely surprising, given the busyness of everyone’s lives, uncertainty in the economy, and some natural apprehension about bringing a stranger into your home.
During the five years that I have been involved in AFS programs, however, I have met dozens of students and families. I don’t pretend that there are never any problems, but for the vast majority, it is a great experience. Your own teenagers can become a part of a network of young people in America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia who have shared the experience of getting to know someone from a different culture.
That’s how student exchange programs help build peace in the world — by building relationships, one family at a time.
AFS and Rotary are looking for families willing to host teenagers coming to the Rochester and Finger Lakes area for the 2008-09 school year. They also want to hear from families who might be interested in the future. Single parents and empty-nesters are eligible too.
Contact AFS by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Rotary through the Web site www.rotary.org. Click on the tab for “Students and Youth,” then follow the link to “Rotary Youth Exchange.”
Dan Hall is the former editorial page editor of Messenger Post Media. E-mail: email@example.com