Friday, February 10, 2017

Japanese exchange students to attend Windham High School By Stephen Signor

On March 4th, 25 students from all around Japan will be exposed to, what hopes to be, the experience of a lifetime. Thanks to the organization, Greenheart, they will be placed into host family homes for 10 days and 9 nights. These exchange students will have the opportunity to observe, learn and taste the American culture. 

Since its founding in 1985, with the Flagship High School Programs Department, Greenheart has been dedicated to creating global leaders through a collection of programs and initiatives.
Greenheart is an environmental, economically and socially conscience organization, that is working with 60 other organizations to place students. Only the top ten that work with the Department of State, through a grant program, are approved. 

“We are one of the top ten,” said Kathy Hansen. In a non-profit, everyone is a volunteer. The students have an acute awareness that no one is being paid. Instead, it is a requirement that the students do community service to give back. “We volunteered last year at Catherine’s kitchen,” continued Hansen. 

Through local coordinators like Hansen, Greenheart has had a presence in Windham since the beginning. “I was called by a teacher who asked if I would be willing to be a host family to one of a group that was coming in. So, I volunteered. I don’t know how she got my name and I never asked,” explained Hansen. None of that mattered. “I got hooked and loved it,” continued Hansen. That was 1985 and the student was Barbel Richter of Germany.

It would be that same enjoyment and fulfillment that Hansen received from Richter, that would lead to her becoming a coordinator and an epiphany. “I knew I couldn’t afford to expose my five children to the world so I decided this would be a great way to bring the world to them, one student at a time, “expressed Hansen. 

With 77 countries participating around the globe, the opportunities are endless. Hosting is done year round, not just during school. During the summer it is ambassadors from Spain and France that are most likely to be here.

Since 1985, Greenheart has enjoyed an impressive success story with 87 percent of the families happy with the experience. The remaining 13 percent is the result of uncontrollable circumstances and not a reflection of the program. “This is just a result of the student’s inability to cope with a new environment, some other cultural rejection or just plain being homesick,” explains Hansen.
It begins with their arrival, when students are picked up from Logan Airport in Boston, by the host family and then taken to an environment approved by the combined efforts of both Greenheart and the assigned coordinator, through a screening process. 

While completing the application process for approval, which can take up to one hour, there is an extensive and thorough process that follows. This involves background checks, references and interviews. Pictures are also taken of the home for documentation purposes. A secondary visit is required by the Department of State that is separate from the coordinator’s visit. 

Once approved, the rest goes according to schedule. In this instance, the exchange students from Japan will arrive at the school on March 4th and leave from the school on March 14th. While there, they will have a student chaperone that has been approved by the school. As for living accommodations - they do not require their own bedroom and the only cost to the host family is their food. 

In the end, gains from this experience are numerous and felt by all involved. It’s about connecting people with people. “Our students learn about another culture and make friends for life,” shared Hansen. By hosting you are making a difference in someone’s life. “Not only is it life changing and meaningful, we’re giving them a gift,” continued Hansen. 

In the summer of 2015, Hansen received her own gift - in the form of a rewarding surprise. “Barbel’s two teenage daughters came and stayed with me as exchange students. This is a testament to the power of the program and the gift it has to offer. Great memories!” concluded Hansen.

Greenheart is currently looking for 10 host families for this group scheduled to arrive in March. Interested families are urged to contact Kathy Hansen at: 207-653-1007 or
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