What it means to be an exchange student!
SEE THE WORLD! MEET NEW PEOPLE! LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE! EXPANDYOUR MIND! LEARN A NEW CULTURE! BE AWAY FROM HOME! TRY NEW FOODS!
These are the obvious reason to be an exchange student. However, as you must have come to realize that is not entirely what it means to be an exchange student. I didn’t get it, because I honestly believed that the above reasons were the entirety of the meaning.
Exchange students became popular after WWII. The world wanted healing and the idea arose to send the youth of the world off to see another way of life. The exchange student was an expression of the need for international understanding. Over time the ideal was tamed. Now exchange students are a symbol of status in the global world. Exchange students are walking examples of globalism. Under the flash and glitter of the “world citizen” badge exchange students still have the same profound purpose.
Try to think of yourselves as contractors sent to build a bridge in Spain. You cannot do it alone. You need two major supports (your host family and your natural family). You and the meet you met will make connections. These connection will link together to form a bridge. When you came back to America you will lay the bridge over the ocean. You will have done something profound.
Having lived in Spain you should have some idea of what a cultural ambassador is. A cultural ambassadors job is to represent their nation in the best light that they can. You are there in Spain for us. You have an obligation to the universal ideal of international understanding to build or repair the bridges of understanding as best as you can.
This is not to say that all of you connections and relationships are cold bonds with a patriotic agenda. It is not that at all. It is a chance to express our culture how you wish to. You are both idealist youth and you have the chance to leave an impressionon others. The impression you leave will stay in Spain and in your heart for the rest of your life.
Being an exchange student gives you the rare opportunity to step out of your “organically developed” life and experience something that is not your own. You can make it your own and you do make the experience yours by engaging it. The experience is your own.
In pop culture, exchange student are often overly dramatic satires of their home culture. That’s 70’s show FEZ or the naked French girl in Not Another Teen Movie. You are now in the same pop culture category as Olga Spitzen, who ate markers in first grade, and Valda who excels in school. You are presenting something foreign to these people and it is up to you weather or not you look naked or intelligent.
The people you met and the lives you touch will always remember you. Not as the American Exchange student, but as Tommy or Andreas. They will be friends with you for who you are. They will remember you for your actions and attitude. It is unfair, but they will judge you positively or negatively because of your origin. Just like we do for Valda or Korean rubics cube masters in our schools.
If you think that being judged for your nationality is unfair than you have the perfect mindset for an exchange student. You see the injustice in nationality-based bias. You see the same need for change that the world saw when the exchange student movement became popular. You see the same reasoning that your coordinates and host family see. You know there must be a passion and an ideal for your host families to even think of taking an exchange student. It is your turn to be just what the world needs. To step into the shoes that all the Spanish exchange students stepped into before you. to build that cultural bridge. To facilitate cultural understanding.
YES, WE CAN AND YES WE WILL