09 August 2007

Newly Arriving Exchange Students

I'm so excited! Today this next school year's AFS exchange students arrive in Alaska and I'm going to meet up with them in Anchorage and give them their arrival orientation! I think we have 31 kids coming but I have to check the roster. They're coming from all over the world and they'll be going to host families all over Alaska and attending high school here for the next year.

I love meeting these groups in the beginning and then watching them grow and change over the year. They gain confidence in themselves, they learn to be independent thinkers, they learn how to solve difficult problems, how to deal with new situations, etc. I know that this group will be nervous, many of them did not think of Alaska when they signed up for this thing. To them the USA meant Florida, New York City, and California - the world portrayed by Hollywood and by the view-the-states-in-a-month tours that people they know may have gone on. They will be freaked out about how they will survive the cold, the dark, and sometimes the isolation of small town life. They will be freaked out by all the dogs in this place. And they will have a blast. By the time they leave they will laugh at their worries. They will have done things they never dreamed of doing: skiing, dog mushing, kayaking, camping, hiking. Many of these outdoor things that Alaskans take as a normal part of life are completely alien to these kids who live in places where there isn't quite the same wildness left so that even when you are recreating in it you are always on a well marked trail (most of Europe) or in places where the wild is seen as a dangerous place that you strive to conquer or get away from (much of Africa, Latin & South America, & Asia).

Wild Geranium (Geranium erianthum)

When I lived in Northern California I used to take the kids and their liaisons on a backpacking trip about 3 months after they arrived and I would tell them that it was a metaphor for their experience. In the beginning you are scared, nervous, not sure you are going to like it and it seems like a huge trip. In the middle you are tired, you have blisters, you may be grumpy, you think it is never going to end. At the end you are having so much fun you don't want to go back even though you are looking forward to showers and your own bed but you know you will be leaving fine company who knows you in a way that other people don't because it strips you down to your essentials and you can't believe how quickly the time passed. When you leave it changes your outlook and you look back on it as one of the best things you've ever done and you have a wealth of stories and memories from it.

When these kids arrive tomorrow we will be doing the equivalent of giving them a map & compass and signing them in at the trail head. They're going to be excited and nervous and they will be awesome. I'm already inspired and I haven't even met them!


  1. you are a good, good woman. i'd meet them at the trailhead in a beer costume with a six pack, just to get their juices flowing.

  2. Ayear is a long time to be away form your family, when you say 'kids' how old do you mean?

  3. I love the excitement of new things, new people, new places, new friends! What a great thing you get to do with this group of adventurers!

  4. I wish I could be one of your exchange students...or maybe you could "exchange" with me: I could come and talk about bears, and you could go to GA and study wild life of the preschooler variety! :)

  5. jen ~ Unfortunately since they are all under age we can't do that (since we just got done telling them that they need to respect the rules of their host country).

    DJ kirby ~ it is a long time. These kids are usually 16-18years of age, still in high school. And some of them have little or no English. It's a huge challenge. Each country chooses their own students to go abroad (or the AFS volunteers of that country) and we do try and gauge if they are mature enough to attempt this because some kids just aren't.

    orangeblossoms ~oh yes!

    live ~ well maybe some day we'll have to make our own exchange up :)


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