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Why face-to-face international and cultural exchange is more important than ever

In a world of increasing globalization and connectedness through technology, our communities feel more vast than ever. Certainly, here in Vermont we are lucky to have our small state feel still intact, but how many of us can say that we don’t go through our days corresponding with people nowhere near us via email, viewing pictures of friends or family in far-off places on social media, and reading news articles that provide insight into places we may have never heard of without the internet and likely will never visit? There are many positives to this increased virtual engagement, access to news and overall global awareness, but it can also feel overwhelming. It can feel overwhelming to read about a horrific natural disaster or human rights issue and be so removed from it you don’t know how to act. It can feel overwhelming to view photos of your friends traveling and know that you will not have the funds, time or either to do something like that anytime soon or maybe ever. It can feel overwhelming to try to figure out how to be connected to a global world and simultaneously stay active and present in our local one. Ironically, while we are increasingly connected electronically, it can make us feel more and more disconnected on the ground.

For many of us, our relationships with politics, human rights, social justice/injustice and environmental issues (to name a few) are constantly challenged as we consume more and more information and do something to react on the ground but constantly feel that we are not doing enough, that we cannot do enough, to address the problem(s). That feeling probably isn’t going to go away. Yet we still have to continue to live our lives. We still have to work, eat 52/7 and care for ourselves and our families. And, while disengaging from larger national and global issues is somewhat appealing, that isn’t really going to help anything either. The key is to finding a balance – how can we maintain a sense of being grounded locally while continuing to engage globally? How can we stay connected to the issues we care about without feeling overwhelmed by their vastness?

Some ways to find balance might be to volunteer in your own community, raise money for a local or international cause, or commit to educating others about the issues you’re passionate about in hopes of inspiring more change makers. While there are many ways to do this, hosting an international student is a surprisingly good (and somewhat overlooked) way to find that balance. It allows you to be simultaneously connected locally – by staying close to your roots and having the opportunity to share your local community and the beautiful state of Vermont with others – and globally, as you engage with a person/people from different parts of the world and share experiences, cultures, language and ideas. It also allows you to play a role in the life of an emerging global leader. After all, although it might sound cheesy, the young travelers and students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. And for us, the best part about hosting is that you’re doing this all in person, face to face, no screen in between.

For anyone who has hosted before or been hosted by someone else, you know that it is a two-way educational experience. Oftentimes, the host learns as much about another culture and way of life/thinking as the traveler(s). Sometimes the guest will reciprocate the host’s generosity by cooking a traditional meal from back home – we do all love food after all! A good hosting experience will and should be mutually beneficial and rewarding. Some may form lifelong relationships with their guests, while others see the exchange as a beautiful but fleeting relationship; both are fine, both are valuable, both have something to teach us about the ways through which we move through this world. Hosting, after all, reminds us of the beauty of forming a connection and then letting it go. Not through a screen, not as a post or a tweet or photo. But for real, in real life, face to face, where you can hug your guest goodbye at the end of their time with you and say, I really got to know that person.

Tabanin is the program manager at Waitsfield-based PH International, a nongovernmental organization that offers international exchange opportunities from many parts of the world. Local hosts are always needed. For details email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 496-4545.

The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971