What can you do to help build a more peaceful world? Consider hosting a foreign exchange student

By Garland Hancock

“But what can I do?”

I think most of us have asked that question at one time or another. 

We hear a story on the radio about tensions and even violence between nations around the world and many of us think — “Why is it so hard for us to get along?  We are all people. We all have the same basic needs.  We all love our children. Why can’t we learn to understand each other?” And finally, “But what can I do?”  

If you would like to take that question seriously and also have a wonderful learning experience for your own family, I have a suggestion – host a foreign exchange student this school year.

I have worked with foreign-exchange students — in one way or another — for nearly 20 years now, and nothing has given me greater pleasure. To watch these kids culturally mature before your very eyes is priceless. More than that, though, I am absolutely convinced that America’s foreign-exchange programs play an integral role in facilitating our diplomatic relations abroad.

This year we have an urgent need for Waco area host families for 15 students from two important exchange programs: FLEX and YES.  


The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program is a United States Department of State-sponsored program for secondary school students from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. The program provides merit-based scholarships for students to travel to the United States, live with a host family, and attend a U.S. high school for a full academic year.

FLEX was established in 1992 and funding is provided through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program was created from the conviction of former Senator Bill Bradley that the best way to ensure long-lasting peace and understanding between the U.S. and the countries of Eurasia is to enable young people to learn about the U.S. and Americans firsthand, and to teach Americans about their countries.

The primary goal of the FLEX program is to improve mutual understanding and develop and strengthen long-term relationships between citizens of the United States and other peoples and countries.


The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program was established by Congress in October 2002 in response to the events of September 11, 2001. The program is funded through the U.S. Department of State and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States. Students live with host families, attend high schools, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures. The first class of YES students arrived from Egypt, Gaza, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, West Bank, and Yemen.

How do I get involved?

Both of these programs are incredibly selective. Only 3 percent of those who apply and submit essays are actually admitted. Which is to say these are cream-of-the-crop, “yes ma’am, no ma’am” kids who are hyper-focused on developing skills here in America that will allow them to assume leadership roles once they return back home. They arrive here full of vigor and purpose. And all are proficient in English.

Why the urgency? Students from around the world have been accepted into these highly competitive programs; but with the school year nigh upon us, many of these kids are still in need of host families or, at least, “welcome families.” So, as a coordinator with American Councils for International Education, I am working around the clock to make sure these well-deserving kids can pack their bags for Waco!

So, what are your costs/responsibilities should you decide to host one of these wonderful kids? Hosts must assure their students have transportation to and from school; so, if you are on a bus route, you are already set. Other than that, you simply provide room and board. And anytime the student might dine outside the home — for example, at the school cafeteria, or when accompanying your family to a restaurant — he or she is on his or her own.

Plus, the students come fully insured; and with the scholarship dollars they receive through acceptance into the FLEX/YES programs, they are required to budget for all personal expenses — entertainment, toiletries, school supplies, etc.

I am sure you have questions so please call me at your earliest convenience — today would be great! — at (254) 216-0460.

These kids are driven. They inspire. And they will win your heart. The bond you forge will last forever. The worst thing about hosting is that one day soon you will have to say goodbye. Best of all, you can rest assured that your student will ultimately pay it forward – hosting one student can start a chain reaction that can touch hundreds or even thousands of people back in their home communities.  That’s what you can do that will really make  a difference.

Garland Hancock is a free-lance journalist who publishes the Texas-based magazine J.D. Mayo’s Full-Court Press. In his free time, the China Spring resident and amateur percussionist travels the world to feed his passion for live, indigenous music. Garland has been working with foreign-exchange students for nearly 20 years and, as a part-time Language Arts tutor who specializes in ACT/SAT prep, he dedicates much of his schedule to helping ESL learners realize their dream of attending an American college.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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