“Discover America all over again through the eyes of international stuÂdents.”
Tell us about yourself and your organization.
I am Becky Bell and I volunteer with CIEE, Council International Educational Exchange, working with the high school exchange program. As a team leader I recruit other local coordinators in Virginia to assist me in finding good host or welcome families for students arriving in August and January to study for 1 or 2 semesters.
Over the last 10 years that I have volunteered for CIEE, I have personally overseen as many as 300 students from Brazil, Jordan, Egypt, Spain, Russia, South Korea, Germany, Italy, China, Thailand, Slovakia and more. My family has also hosted each year, opening our minds to other cultures, values, languages, foods and laughter. We have several daughters and sons all over the world whom we have visited and/or they have returned to visit us. Friends in every continent.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Seeing a host family at the airport waiting with great anticipation as well as reservations for their host son or daughter. Then watching at the end of the exÂchange with tears flowing with love for this child who has become a true son or daughter. Both the student and family thanking me for connecting them. Receiving calls and emails from all over the world on Christmas morning, birthdays and other happy events. Finally, having the opportunity to make friends with the students as well as their natural parents, host families and other volunteer local coordinators. Our friendship shares a common thread of a strong sense of the importance of cross-cultural understanding in today’s world.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how did you handle them?
Hosting and being a local coordinator can have its days. Working with people who have different ideas and beliefs can be challenging. Sometimes a family becomes frustrated that the student does not always pick up in their room, does not do all their homework or wants to be on the computer too much. Negotiating, supporting and parenting are asked of me. When a situation arrives that needs my support or the support of CIEE’s staff, I remember and share with my students and host families that laughter usually can solve a problem. Laugh because teenagers are teenagers no matter where they are born.
What?s coming next for you or your organization that really excites you?
I have seen so many advancements in the exchange program since joining CIEE. Many opportunities have been offered for our children to study abroad on exchange programs including scholarship study abroad programs. This is the placement season and I need the community to share about the opportunity of hosting or becoming involved as a local coordinator. If you are not in the position to host this year, you can still help by letting others know of the value of the cultural exchange. Make our mission a success and get the word out. CIEE will offer an incentive program for successful referrals. This is a wonderful way for donations to be offered to charities of your choice. As you can see, CIEE offers so many opportunities to learn about the world and to globalize our communities.
In an effort to get our name out there we are participating in a carwash May 11th to raise money for the Richmond Animal League. We will wash from 10-12 and sell single carnations for Mother’s Day. Please stop by!