“I enjoy connecting people to one another,” says Lynn Chapman, explaining one reason she became a local coordinator for the Council on International Education Exchange’s (CIEE) high school program, matching Seattle-area host families with overseas students.
“The reason [these programs] exist is for diplomacy,” she says, noting that CIEE, while a non-governmental organization, is recognized by the State Department as an “Exchange Visitor Program.”
As a member of Congregation Eitz Or, Lynn would like to find more Jewish host families. In addition to teaching the world about America, she feels Jewish hosts can change “how Jews are viewed in the world.” Most foreign exchange students are not Jewish and the few Israeli students “are snapped up” by hosts.
Lynn interviews prospective families — of any denomination — and does a home visit. She has monthly contact with students who stay one or two semesters, attending public or private school. With students arriving in August, Lynn is recruiting this month without the benefit of reaching PTAs or students in classes.
She’s encountered some reluctance among Jewish families she contacted and isn’t sure if it reflects concerns about anti-Semitism.
An enthusiastic Seattle mom and daughter who have hosted numerous foreign students are Kassie Koledin and Nasni, 14, a rising Franklin High School freshman. Kassie says that during her first exchange experience — hosting a group of German teachers many years ago — she was concerned about how their Judaism would be perceived. But it led to “a moving discussion” and they have had “no problems in all the years” they’ve done this.
More common is “total ignorance and total confusion,” Kassie says, particularly for Japanese students from small towns “where they’ve never encountered someone who wasn’t a Buddhist.” But “anybody who’s interested enough in going abroad…comes with some sensitivity,” she observes.
While most host families have kids, says Lynn, single adults, couples without children, and families with younger children are welcome to apply, although the experience is often easier with another high school-age host in the home.
A life coach and a health educator, Lynn also works part-time for Eastside Friends of Seniors, which helps keep seniors in their homes.
If you’re interested in hosting, call her at 425-501-1777, and read more at www.ciee.org/highschool.
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Courtesy Suzanne Mayer
Foreign exchange works both ways. Last year, Seattle math teacher Suzanne Mayer was awarded a Fulbright teacher exchange in Ghaziabad, India, about 30 minutes outside Delhi. She traveled there from August to December with sons, Jacob, 17, and Andy, 13, although Jacob returned to Seattle in September to complete his junior year of high school.
The Ohio native and Temple Beth Am member teaches math at Aki Kurose Middle School, one of the city’s most diverse and economically challenged student bodies.
In traveling abroad, she wanted to see for herself how American students are holding up in math. “Mathematics education in the U.S. is under a great deal of scrutiny,” she says. “We’re being benchmarked against mathematics instruction all around the world,” with “the perception that we’re not as far ahead.”
In India she found things were different, rather than better. Indian schools — with classes of 48 students — employ rote learning. Students don’t use calculators until college, so they are good at memorizing formulas, whereas American education emphasizes reasoning and principals so “the calculator is a tool” to the solution. Indian students “found it frustrating that I always wanted to explain why,” she says.
The school had no Internet, but classrooms had electronic “smart board” projectors — which became unusable during the many rolling blackouts. This forced Suzanne to learn to use chalk on a blackboard, which she’d never done, having taught for only eight years.
Cultural differences were striking. Staff meetings were very formal and if the principal attended, the teachers stood up when he entered the room.
“Cultural expectations in the classroom are completely different,” too, she says. Students apologize for misbehaving, don’t hesitate to tell on one another, and “it’s a badge of honor to be thought of as smart.”
An attorney for 20 years, Suzanne worked for GE Financial Services around the country. She met her now-former husband Dan in law school and eventually they returned to his hometown of Seattle. When GE closed its Seattle office, Suzanne used it as an opportunity for a career change, returning to school for an education certificate from the University of Washington in Tacoma in teaching special-needs children. She was inspired by her parents, both of who were teachers.
She had an epiphany at her dad’s funeral many years ago when “all these 50-year-old” people were lined up around the block relate the impact her father had on them, and she thought, “my tombstone is going to say, ‘She was an adequate lawyer,’ and that was a defining moment for me.”
Suzanne, who also teaches in Temple Beth Am’s religious school, kept a blog during her journey which is still on the web at www.mayersbigadventure.blogspot.com.