November 26, 2001
Local families recognized during International Education Week
by Deborah Stone
International Education Week 2001 was recently celebrated around the country. The event, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State, emphasized the importance of international education in building friendship around the world. Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed the celebration noting that the initiative is "part of our effort to prepare Americans for a global environment and to attract future leaders from abroad to study in the U.S."
There are numerous programs that offer opportunities for foreign students to study in the United States, and conversely, for American students to study abroad. One such agency is Program of Academic Exchange (PAX), a nonprofit educational foundation designated by the State Department as an official Exchange Visitor Program.
PAX provides a School Year USA, which enables teenagers from 35 countries to spend a semester living and studying in the United States, as well as PAX Abroad programs for American students to France, Germany, Spain, Ecuador and Australia. Students are placed with local host families during their stay, which allows them to have an in depth experience with the culture.
Redmond resident Janell Gregson, local representative of PAX, notes that these host families, who welcome foreign students each year, are at the heart of international exchange programs. She says, "I applaud the generosity and open-mindedness of these families. They deserve recognition for their role in promoting international understanding. By sharing their everyday life with a foreign student, they enable that young person to return home with a true understanding of what America really is."
Currently, three local area families are sharing their homes with foreign students participating in PAX. In Woodinville, the Bailey family is host to Taro Masushio from Japan and the Hino family is host to Merixtell (Meri) Segurra from Spain. Both Taro and Meri are attending Woodinville High School. In Duvall, the Jackson Beard family is host to Thomas Hannickel from Brazil, who is a student at Cedarcrest High School.
The Hinos, Susan and Hiro, have two teenage children of their own and this is their first time to host a student for a year, although the family has opened its home in the past to Japanese visitors for short periods of time. "I read in the paper that PAX needed host families," said Susan. "Both my husband and I were exchange students when we were younger. I went to Japan as a junior in high school and my husband, who is Japanese, came to the U.S. as a college student. We really see the value in exchange programs and thought it would be a wonderful experience for our family to have a foreign student in our home for a school year."
Their foreign student, 16-year-old Meri, arrived Aug. 23 and will remain until the middle of June, when she will return to her home in Barcelona, Spain. She attends WHS, along with 18-year-old Jonathan and 16-year-old Eri Hino.
According to Susan, Meri has been gradually adapting to her new environment and is busy participating in typical teen activities.
"Her English is excellent," comments Susan. "and she has had no trouble communicating in and out of school. She is meeting people and making friends, with the help of Eri and Jonathan, who have taken her under their wing. This is her first time abroad and she is eager to experience the American way of life. She's a real trooper and just comes along with us and does what we do because she's one of the family."
In questioning Meri about her cross-cultural experience, she responds, "It's very different here than in my country. The customs are different, the food is different and so is the fashion. Also, teenagers here have much more liberty than we do in Spain. I like the freedom. I also really like school.
"The teachers are very good. I wanted to come here to live the life of an American teenager and I am doing that, so my dream has come true. I am also here to improve my English because you need English to get a good job in my country. I would like to get a professional degree in English."
One of the highlights of Meri's stay, thus far, has been playing on a soccer team. She played soccer in Spain, but only informally with her friends and never on a team. Her team experience has been, in her words, "very exciting and so much fun!" When commenting on her host family, she says, "The Hinos are so kind to me and I like being with them. I am very happy living in their home."
As hosts with PAX, the Hinos are responsible for providing Meri with room and board during her stay. She takes care of all other personal expenditures on her own. A PAX representative communicates each month with the students and their families and occasionally plans activities so that the students in the local area can get together with each other. "The PAX support is good," comments Susan. "It's nice to know that there's someone in the area to talk to if there is a problem, both from the student's side and from the host's side."
For the Hinos, Meri has added an extra dimension to their household. She has widened the family's viewpoints and cultural understanding, as well as taught them valuable lessons in tolerance and patience.
"Our children, I think, will really benefit from this special experience," says Susan. "They have learned to share, to give of themselves, to open themselves up and they have also learned to be patient with other points of view and ways of doing things. These are such important qualities and essential in this world."
PAX rep, Gregson, is currently looking for additional local families who would like to host a foreign student for a semester, beginning in January. For more information, call Gregson at 425-376-0866.