On Sunday, July 22 I walked to my local coffee shop to meet Solveig Whittle and the Spanish foreign exchange student who had been spending his summer with her family here in Washington. Jaime Iraizoz, a curious 14-year-old from Madrid whose English is excellent, was not afraid to ask his own questions. Jaime wants to be a journalist like his uncle who now works for a radio station in Spain and had previously worked at one of the largest newspapers in his city. Jaime asked me how I had come to work for The Woodinville Weekly, what I wrote about, and what I liked about my job. Whittle spoke Spanish quickly with Jaime and it was evident they had developed a familiar and easy way to communicate, travel, and experience a Northwest summer.
Whittle’s educational experiences began well before she hosted Jaime. At 13, she spent two months in Mexico as a part of a foreign exchange program. Two years later, she won a National Spanish essay contest and the opportunity to spend two months in Bucaramanga, Colombia. In addition to all of Whittle’s early traveling, her family now supports exchange students eager for an opportunity to learn in the United States. Whittle knows how important this is when she recalls students from Brazil and Mexico staying with her family when she was growing up.
Whittle said, “I first got involved with hosting exchange students as an adult when my two daughters were younger, about 10 years ago. I saw an ad for Education First looking for host families, and we ended up hosting a Spanish student for a month or so during the summer for two years in a row.” Whittle’s own family has remained close with some of the foreign exchange students they housed. One of Whittle’s daughters went to Majorca, Spain to visit a student who had stayed with the family.
Education First (EF) is the world’s largest private education company with over 50 years of experience. EF states, “With EF you can become a host family and welcome an international student into your home. You will experience true cultural exchange and represent your community internationally. As a host family, you become a vital part of our students’ time abroad and their experiences.”
Given the state of our world and specifically our country, it becomes indicative to act as how we represent ourselves. With areas like Woodinville, Bothell, and Duvall acting as epicenters for the blending of progress while maintaining intrinsic American beauty, it is obvious that sharing should be with the younger, diverse individuals interested in learning about how our part of the world works. Duvall and Bothell both have subsections on EF’s Washington host family page because they have already pushed these ideas forward.
Whittle’s son is 14. Over the previous three summers, she had two Chinese exchange students staying with her family. “[My son] had a lot in common with them - swimming and video games, and a love of hamburgers and pizza. He always looks forward to our summer hosting experience,” said Whittle. She continued, “I enjoy being a host because it gives me a chance to see my own home town through the eyes of foreigner.”
Reasons highlighted by EF and previous host families range through increasing their own cultural awareness to introducing their family members to life outside of their own. In the United States, international travel is not commonplace. The New York Times published results this year showing that 40% of those in a 2,000-person study had never left the country. More disconcerting was that 76% wanted to travel more than they already did but because of reasons such as personal finances or simply feeling unprepared, they remained landlocked, stuck in the States. While hosting a foreign exchange student does not guarantee a voyage to their homeland, it can act as the catalyst to prepare, plan, prep, and eventually book that trip that has always alluded.
Whittle says, “We all learn about each other. We may have different customs and languages, but ultimately, we also learn that we are all human, we are all the same underneath. When you are trying to take care of an 8-year-old Chinese boy who has a bad cold and doesn’t speak a lot of English, you learn as a mother that caring for each other as human beings is really a universal language. When you are a 14-year-old boy, the universal languages of ice cream and video games build bridges.”
In addition, the non-profit ASSE International Student Exchange Programs (ASSE), in cooperation our area high schools, is looking for local families to host boys and girls between the ages of 15 to 18 from a variety of countries such as Norway, Denmark, Spain, Japan, and Italy.
For more information on how to become involved in Education First’s Washington program, please visit https://www.ef.edu/host-family/usa/washington
For more information on ASSE International Student Exchange Program, please visit www.host.asse.com