Confession time: since the last U.S. presidential election, I haven’t felt particularly proud to be American. I’ve been bitterly disappointed in our country and our leaders. I am hopelessly devoted to President Barack Obama and loathe the current administration’s methods, communication style and priorities.
That said, I’ve never felt more patriotic than on this 4th of July eve. Why? It’s simple: it’s because of the amazing experiences in America shared by Napa and her Youth for Understanding (YFU) cohort of exchange students. It’s because of the friendship and love shown to these intercultural exchange students by Americans all over this country. It’s because Napa left her year here with nothing but positive feelings about this great land and our people. In fact, I imagine she’ll be homesick for America for quite some time.
Hosting a student through YFU made me fall in love with our community, our culture and our country all over again. It made me appreciate all the good things that we have – and all the incredible people who make up the US of A.
Here in Ohio, we had terrific experiences with Napa every day right here in Olentangy School District. Teachers and students were kind, friendly and helpful to her. Coaches gave her the amazing opportunity to cheer with the Olentangy cheer squad and run with the Olentangy Braves track & field team.
Her caring and committed OHS school counselor placed her in an ELL study hall, which exposed her to fellow students for whom English is a second language. This resulted in Napa developing a wonderful group of friends who resembled a younger, cooler United Nations when they are all together having fun!
We also had terrific experiences with Napa anytime we traveled out of state. She got to see Florida, NYC, Tennessee and many parts in between. We visited national, state and local metro parks. She experienced much of the beauty, natural grandeur and fun that this country has to offer – as much as we could squeeze into her 11 month stay!
Even more important than that, though, she gained two new sets of grandparents. Both my folks in Cali and E’s parents in FL absolutely fell in love with Napa and consider her a bonus granddaughter. They thoroughly enjoyed visiting with her, talking with her and hearing about her country and experiences as an exchange student.
Napa experienced love, family and a home in her year here that are different from those she has in Thailand, but which gave her the warmth and support she needed to flourish and thrive. She ended her year with both academic and athletic honors – and a group of friends who adore and will miss her. She left behind an American family who ached with her loss for days until we finally recalibrated and remembered that being a family of three is actually our “normal.”
I truly hope that the 35 Thai students with whom Napa traveled home to Bangkok each had a year in America as fun and fantastic as Napa’s was. I hope the diverse YFU exchange students returning home to countless other countries did, too – approximately 2,000 students in all. I love to think about all those students going back to their countries with warm, positive feelings about America, having made their childhood dreams come true by living here in the US for an entire school year.
I love that America values and welcomes these exchange students, and I hope the US Department of State cultural exchange programs continue for a long, long time. I also hope that America remembers soon that we’re supposed to be welcoming to all who need us – and that we solve the current immigration problems and reunite all the separated families as soon as humanly possible.
I rarely talk politics on this blog, but with July 4th looming and fireworks booming, I thought it was as good a time as any to share why I’ve rediscovered my love of our country. It’s not because of our leaders (and in fact, is in spite of them) but because of this country’s people – specifically, all those who welcomed Napa and her fellow exchange students this year and gave them a reason to truly love America.
If you’re considering hosting an intercultural exchange student as a way of giving back to our country and making a student’s dream come true, I highly recommend the YFU program!
And if you want to share why you love America, I’d love to hear from you below or over on Facebook.