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Impacting the Future Through Cultural Exchange

December 19, 2012

written by Jillian Sims, Academic Year Program Assistant and edited by Allison Graham, Outreach and Training Manager

It was an experience that changed my life… It opened up the world for me and gave me the ability to embrace, understand, and appreciate other cultures and people around the world.

That life changing experience for Gail Molina, a CCI Greenheart Local Coordinator, was culture exchange: a year abroad in Queensland Australia.


Left to right: Marion (France), Kaili (Gail’s daughter), Lea (Germany),Gail, Elena (Italy), Vivien (France), Minh (Vietnam)

Inspired by her time spent in a foreign place and culture, as a Local Coordinator (LC), Gail uses her experience as a guidepost for her own high school exchange students that she has placed with host families; “I wanted to help other students have the same kind for life-changing experience that I had.” And she has done much more than that. She has had the influence to impact the future: for her students, her community, and even the world.

I had a past student email me and tell me that some advice I had given her while she was in the U.S allowed her to return and attend college. I don’t remember exactly what was said but I had encouraged her to pursue her dream of going into the medical field. She is accomplishing this and is currently helping under privileged students on the East Coast.

gum-wrapper designed skateboard

gum-wrapper designed skateboard by Gail Molina

For her students now, Gail has the opportunity to cultivate future ambitions and goals through her daily activities and contact with students. As Gail is an artist herself, working in acrylics and salvaged materials, she makes sure to encourage her students in their own particular talents and makes an example of sharing these gifts with the community. “I encourage all of my exchange students who are artistically talented to use their talents. We are hoping to use our artistic talent to lead an art project soon for the children at Children’s Village in our local city here in Washington.”

Gail’s encouragement of her students is tied closely to her philosophy and approach to her students. She advises others to take a personal approach, as well: “Treat your students as if they are your own children. Remember that they come from a very different background and may not act or think the same as people in the U.S. Keep in constant contact with them and build a relationship by doing fun activities, texting for no reason other than to chat, etc.”

It seems too that this approach for Gail benefits twofold–not only the opportunity for her to build solid relationship with her students, but even providing a cultural exchange experience for her own children. Being an LC “has helped my own children to see that students around the world are really not that different from them. It has made them appreciate the U.S and all that it has to offer, as compared to some other countries with less freedoms and opportunities.”

Gail-StudentsGail has placed 9 academic year exchange students and two Independent Homestay students over the years and continues to work to bring a greater cultural understanding to her home community.

While it is not a speedy process, it is because of the work of great LCs, like Gail, and her host families and students that a greater understand of the world is reaching some who may not have always been aware of other cultures, “this experience opens up people’s minds and hearts to embrace other people from around the world.”

For anyone involved in cultural exchange this continues to be the ultimate goal. For Gail and her community, it seems a little bit more fulfilled with each and every student year after year.

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