Youth Exchange Students Give Back to U.S. Communities

High school exchange students achieve amazing things when they are in the United States. Some achievements are team building, like helping high school sports teams to victory. Some build people-to-people connections, such as sharing favorite meals with host families. And some leave indelible marks on communities where these students live, like community service projects. As we celebrate International Youth Day -- and this year’s theme of civic engagement -- I want to highlight just a few talented young people who came to the United States on State Department exchanges to learn a new culture, and gave back in the process.

For example, the students from our Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), and the American-Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) programs contributed more than 15,000 hours of community service during their exchange year in the United States, adding to the well over one million community service hours their FLEX and A-SMYLE peers have contributed before them.

Makhabat from Kyrgyzstan made it her goal to inspire religious tolerance among people of Christian and Muslim faiths, as she completed over 100 hours of community service at a food pantry, a soup kitchen, an elementary school, and other venues. Another student, Ilya from Russia, in addition to contributing almost 200 hours of community service, conducted 37 presentations about his home country, increasing understanding of its history and culture among his classmates and in his host community.

Participants from our TechGirls program offer another great example of giving back. These future entrepreneurs, engineers, and developers from the Middle East spend a summer in the United States learning new IT skills, like coding, and meeting with people in the tech industry. Last summer, the program took participants to volunteer at a garden in New York City. The majority of our inbound exchange programs include a volunteer activity. Most participants have never had the opportunity to volunteer for community service, and they are typically excited to try. Afterward, they are excited about the prospect of returning to their home countries and doing something similar.

Finally, I want to mention the tens of thousands of J-1 Summer Work Travel participants, many of whom participated in “J Day” on August 3, an event where J-1 exchange visitors and stakeholders raised awareness of the Exchange Visitor Programs by giving back to their communities, sharing their diversity, and engaging in cultural activities. My colleague, Robin Lerner, shared highlights from this year’s events on our Route J-1 blog. In Virginia Beach, participants packaged over 10,000 meals for the Stop Hunger Now initiative. From Cape Cod, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California, J-1 sponsors and participants made” J Day” a success with their community outreach, from cleaning up parks, to volunteering at shelters, to donating canned goods.  Cultural activities are a core part of the J-1 experience , and the turnout showed that these participants value the opportunity to give back, share new ideas, and develop ways they can contribute to their local communities upon return to their home countries.

Spending a year, or even a summer, away from family, friends, and country isn’t always easy, and I commend these participants for  their willingness to step out of their comfort zones. I know each of them will benefit tremendously from doing so, for years to come -- as will the U.S. communities where they lived.

About the Author: Evan Ryan serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Follow the Assistant Secretary on Twitter.

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abraham m.
September 10, 2015
I want work for volunteer helping or do something good I cook want learn more I study in Mexicali don't like this city is hot want learn inglish more I'm American city god bless california
Posted by Evan Ryan
August 12, 2015


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