by Jillian Sims; HSP Compliance and Operations Manager
When it comes to community presence, it’s not just our students who make a mark. Some of our Local Coordinators go above and beyond to be involved in their community and make hosting an exchange student a family and community affair that benefits everyone involved. Local Coordinator and Regional Manager, Lisa Jensen, does exactly that. Her Michigan host families and students never seem to run out of amazing activities, volunteer opportunities, or wonderful chances to experience cultural exchange with Lisa leading the way. In this month’s spotlight, we learn how Lisa came to the world of cultural exchange and how she shares it with her home community and students from around the world.
How did you become involved as an LC with CCI Greenheart?
I had already been a LC for about 5-6 years with another organization but knew there had to be more to working with the students and host families. After researching, I contacted Regional Director, Jennifer Myers, to learn more about CCI Greenheart. I loved the community aspect of CCI Greenheart. I’ve always thought it important to be a part of your community. I also was not familiar with the Grants Program. I was hooked immediately.
I’ve been with CCI Greenheart for about 4 years now, most of that as an RM. Growing with the company is easy if you share your passion of the program with everyone; the host families, the students, the community activities, etc. A few years back, I had a host mom say she wanted to become part of our group because we always seem to be having a good time. Soon after, she in fact became a LC.
You’ve hosted and been an LC for many years and you provide many great opportunities for your students and families. Do you have any favorite moments?
I’ve had so many great times with our students and families over the years. One that really sticks out is our first time showing the host families and students the process of making maple syrup. A local family invited us to come out to their farm. We started by taking the tractor and wagon out to the back 40. They had a maple syrup shack boiling down the sap. It was close to being ready to filter. While we waited, we were taken out to the trees with the buckets to help collect more sap. Kids were running everywhere. It’s almost like they made a game as to who could collect the most buckets! When we went back to the shack, the mom had made some maple syrup cookies to share with everyone! And, yes, they were wonderful! They then explained the filtering process. Then everyone got to taste fresh, warm syrup and then sadly, the day was done.
Another fun activity that took place this year was when we teamed up with a local 4H group to make some homemade Christmas cards for a couple of local nursing homes. Everyone was involved. Host moms brought their stamps and creative memory and scrapbook items and all the kids from ages 4 – 18 made all these beautiful and creative cards. It was great to watch our exchange students help out the younger kids. A few weeks later, we went to the nursing homes so the students and kids could pass out the cards they created to the residents and sing Christmas carols. To watch them singing and talking to the residents was great – my smile couldn’t get any bigger.
I love hearing the stories from my host families and community as far as to how our kids are doing or how much they’ve appreciated the kids helping out. There is a weekly spot in the local newspaper that we started about 6 or 7 years back appropriately called “Cultural Corner”. It is a weekly paper and many of these same stories, activities and functions appear regularly. People will say, “I read about this student or that activity in the paper.”
Tell us about yourself outside of hosting and being an LC.
In the summer, when I’m not monitoring students, my family and I camp on occasion, invite friends over for picnics,visit family or go to Lake Michigan. I enjoy my weekly art class where I mosaic, try my hand at making wool rugs and homemade soap; I love watching movies with my family and when time allows, playing Euchere. We just moved into a new home a year and a half ago and I’m looking forward to filling the yard with flowers. I’m currently involved with a few ladies in our town and we are trying to spearhead a community garden. It’s looking positive and has our Village Council’s blessing! I’m also looking forward to sharing this potential opportunity with the students coming next year.
You have a lot of wonderful experience as seasoned LC and Regional Manger, can you offer any tips to new LCs?
I’d like to share with our new LC’s to do their best to create a true relationship with their families and students, such as:
Visit the students more in person in the beginning, get to know them. Build that trust. Be involved or get involved in your community and when you plan activities whether for volunteering or just plain fun, plan something that means something to you, things that you are passionate about; things that can be hands on and educational at the same time. BUT don’t plan things that include ONLY the student – include the whole family unit. After all, you brought them together as a family. I’ve heard too many stories over the years where families felt left out.
You will still have your share of bumps along the way, but that is true with any job – with life. Some years are more challenging than others. I’ve had the best support from so many sources at CCI Greenheart when I needed it. There are times I ask myself why I do what I do and then, that one student comes up to you, gives you a hug and thanks you for being there for them and then it is all made clear — “this is why I do what I do”.
How many students have you hosted and monitored over the years? How has it affected your family? As a host parent yourself, has it improved your ability to be an LC?
Over the years, my family has hosted 22 exchange daughters – 16 full year, 1 semester, and 5 summer. My daughter was 5 when we started and I knew nothing about teenagers. I learned fast. Listening to the advice of other LCs, and hopefully learning from my mistakes (we all make them) helped me grow not only as a LC but as a person. As host parents, we still make mistakes. It almost always seems easier to give advice than to follow that same advice, but as with anything it gets easier. It has allowed me more practice to share with new host parents and not to sweat the small stuff.
Hosting has developed into a lifestyle for my whole family. None of us can really imagine a year without at least one new daughter.
My husband David (who I affectionately refer to as my “MacGyver”) loves to take them fishing and my daughter MaKayla (who now is of an age where they share boy band stories and sings with them)loves to share that she has 22 sisters all over the world. I just love to watch and be with my family no matter what they are doing, just as I love to watch and be with the families and students and coordinators with whom I work and play.
By Muqadess Gul, CCI Greenheart High School Exchange Student
Muqadess is an exchange student from Pakistan who was placed in Kentucky. She is a Greenheart Club member who has volunteered 236 hours! Below you can read about her adventures in the United States and her experiences volunteering.
I am Muqadess Gul, You can call me Gul since my first name is really hard to pronounce. I am an exchange student from the very beautiful, versatile and rich in culture country called Pakistan. I am currently living in Kentucky, USA with the world’s most awesome and loving family “The Roberts”. I had always seen the USA in movies and in my dreams with an utmost desire to visit it one day, and here I am living my dreams! This exchange year is teaching me a lot and is helping me to grow into a better person.
I find volunteering to be a positive energy that spreads happiness easily. It not only makes you happy, but it also makes the people you are helping with your actions and words happy as well.
My very first community service project in America was to do a car wash in order to raise money for my high school’s Mathematics department and we managed to make $300. I had never thought that I would be able to do such a challenging job. It was an amazing and different experience for me. That community service project taught me that no matter how hard a job is, you can do it if you have enough faith in yourself.
One of my favorite volunteering activities is to tutor the students at an elementary school. I go to an elementary school almost three days a week for two hours and tutor the students over there. I help them with mathematics and science. I teach them about my home country and my culture too. I taught them how to write their names in my native language of Urdu. They really enjoy learning about my home country and are very eager to learn more about it. One of the students at the elementary school told me that he bought some books about my home country because he wants to learn more about it and visit it one day.
Whenever I get a chance I present about my home country at my high school. All of the teachers and students are always excited and eager to learn my home country.
The most recent volunteer activity that I did was at the Kentucky Center of Arts. I went there with my local coordinator and some other exchange students. We all volunteered at a theater performance. We helped the audience find their seats. The staff of the Kentucky Center of Arts really appreciated our efforts.
I’m done with almost half of my exchange year and I have a lot of volunteering experiences to share. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the exchange year so that I can gain more volunteering experiences because volunteering brings a lot of positive energy into the lives of all of us.
By: Katy Smithy, Work and Travel Business Development Specialist
For those who have never gone to China, drop whatever you are doing right now and book your flight.
Maybe it was the beautiful scenery or the great people, but our Job Fair in China last month was such an incredible experience all around. We not only had a chance to travel to three very different cities within the country, we had an opportunity to see them in a different way. We interviewed hundreds of stellar participants, visited one of the largest Buddhas in the world, sang tons of karaoke, ate more good food then I can possibly explain, and even made time to do a volunteer project.
I’ve personally never volunteered while traveling internationally, and I think it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. As you all probably know, our Greenheart Club encourages all of our stakeholders to get involved in their community. One thing that you might not know is that starting this year all of our International Job Fairs now include a volunteer component as well. This allows our host organizations, sending agency, and participants (both alumni and future participants) to get to know each other in a very different way… by working together to give back.
For this Job Fair, we planted trees at Huashang College of Guangdong University of Finance and Economics. It was great to see everyone roll up their sleeves and get dirty. The only thing we needed was more trees! We had so many volunteers that we probably could have planted a forest. After the event, all of the volunteers had dinner and bonded in a different way. We talked about traveling, our home countries and cultural experiences. It was heartwarming to see everyone connecting on such a personal (and fun!) level. At our core, that is what CCI Greenheart is all about… cultural exchange and understanding.
So… have you booked your ticket yet?
By: Malgorzata (Gosia) Tekgoz, Work and Travel Partner Relations Manager
Last month at a Summer 2015 Job Fair, CCI Greenheart employers and staff hired Summer Work Travel program participants in Bulgaria and Turkey. Our employers hired a number of young, ambitious participants looking to gain work experience abroad.
At the Job Fair in Sofia, we had the pleasure of hosting the United States Consul General, Deborah Campbell, who shared with our program applicants some tips on J-1 visa applications.
After the Job Fair, we volunteered at the Bulgarian Food Bank where we sorted donated foods with employers, participants, and sending partner staff. Our group sorted food for 1700 meals! We donated a total of 21 hours of work between all the volunteers and donated food for 150 meals! It was a great experience. We got to know an inspiring staff member of the food bank who trained us in food sorting and provided lots of interesting information about the facility and the community it serves.
From Bulgaria, we continued our journey onto Turkey. Here, we visited Istanbul and Eskisehir, and conducted another Job Fair. In Istanbul, we visited Ortakoy, the Miniaturk Museum, took a ferry on the Bosphorus, and tried local cuisine on the Asian side of the city.
Turkish students looked forward to meeting new and returning employers. They seized the opportunity to ask questions about different jobs, and discovered more about the local communities they will be traveling to.
We look forward to having Bulgaria and Turkish students on the program this season! See you in the United States!
By: Irina Capaldi, Work and Travel Employer Relations Manager
Arriving to Jordan is not an easy feat. This year we dealt with uncooperative weather, which resulted in several flight delays. With only a few hours of sleep under their belts, our dedicated and professional host employers conducted a very impressive Summer Work Travel Job Fair in Amman on the morning of February 17, 2015. CCI Greenheart and our valued Jordanian partners, captivated their esteemed guests as we arrived to the Gold Ballroom at the Le Meridien Amman. Through our collaboration, every effort was made to promote a meaningful cultural exchange program in support of the U.S. Embassy in Amman’s mission. Their mission, in a nut shell, strives to foster mutual understanding between the people of the United States and Jordan.
CCI Greenheart proudly hosted the Embassy of the United States of America Vice Consul, Rebecca Farmer, at this event. Ms. Farmer took time from her busy schedule to share some valuable information about the Embassy, expressed her support of the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, and encouraged the candidates to take part in this life-changing cultural exchange experience. What a day! Our employers walked away with all of their positions filled, our candidates walked away with fascinating job opportunities, and we had the pleasure of being a part of this experience.
To top off our experience in Jordan, CCI Greenheart, Stationcom staff, employers and participants had the opportunity to volunteer at The Greater Amman Municipality. We cleaned a local park, as families curiously watched and enjoyed the facilities. It was very gratifying to help support the Municipality’s vision of keeping Amman organized, attractive, safe, authentic and full of heritage. No trip will ever be the same without a Greenheart Club Service Project!
By Melissa Muth, Career Advancement Program Assistant
As stated by Wendell Berry, “The Earth is what we all have in common.” Here at the CCI Greenheart Career Advancement Program we unite citizens of the Earth through cultural exchange and professional development, all while promoting volunteerism and environmental sustainability. In honor of Earth Day’s 45th anniversary on April 22nd (and Greenheart’s 30th anniversary) we’ve decided to pull together some “green” volunteer opportunities that we thought you might like to delve into as you take part in the celebration of our Earth:
Organize a tree planting party in your neighborhood!
Perhaps your neighborhood is in need of some greenery. Organize your neighborhood pals for a collaborative tree planting effort. Perhaps bring some music and ask everyone to bring an edible contribution to share!
Donate all your used goods!
We all have clothes, books, blankets, pots etc. sitting around just waiting to be used. Sometimes we go on cleaning rampages and decide to just throw all that stuff out, but why not donate it for reuse instead? Companies like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and AMVETS take in used clothing, offering affordable and/or free options to families and individuals in-need. For more info on how you can help your fellow community members AND the environment visit: donationdropoff.org.
Host a goods exchange!
Take the concepts of donating and reusing a step further by inviting all of your friends over for a goods exchange! Simply ask all of your friends to gather up some of the goods they no longer use and invite them over for a small gathering so that they can exchange their “old” items for “new” ones, all while enjoying some hors d’oeuvres and good company. Any leftover items can simply be donated to your favorite local charity!
Participate in a beach or park clean-up project!
One of the simplest ways you can celebrate Earth day is by cleaning up garbage on a local waterfront or park. These are sites meant to be embraced for their natural beauty, and you can be a part of the effort to maintain them. Visit the website of your local park district or forest preserve to learn more about the clean-up activities happening in your area!
Something that’s so often overlooked- especially in cities- is gardening! We often think we lack both the time and space to plant our own flowers, fruits and vegetables, but gardening doesn’t have to be as tough as it looks. With a bit of time and patience, you can transform your empty patio or yard into an aesthetically appealing green space that brings you nutritious greens while simultaneously reducing pollution and overall environmental impact.
Which green initiatives will you participate in this Earth Day? Are you currently working with any “green” organizations? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You might even be featured on our blog! For more information about the Career Advancement Program, please visit at our website: http://www.cci-exchange.com/work-programs-j1/intern-trainee/
CCI Greenheart Exchange Students’ Voices Bring Cultural Exchange and Community Improvement in Hawaii
by: Molly Vidmar, High School Program Assistant
The mission of the FLEX program is to provide students from countries from the former Soviet Union with opportunities to learn about and to exercise free speech and the democratic process. At an enhancement activity on exposing students to the different branches of government, FLEX students Begaiym and Diana were invited to speak in a public service announcement about cultural exchange, courtesy of Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi. The mayor asked what things could be done for exchange students living in Hawaii.