Students and host families involved in foreign exchange programs can gain valuable lessons from each other.
For Paul Pankratz, pastor of student ministries at First Baptist Church in Minot, being involved as a coordinator for such a program was a natural fit.
"I first got involved with the Pacific Intercultural Exchange program, one of the number of different exchange organizations, when I got a call from an agent in Minneapolis. She was looking for someone to be a representative to help international students spend a year of study in the U.S.," Pankratz said.
"That got my interest. I've traveled internationally and I take youth from my church on international mission projects, and I've dealt with a lot of the cultural dynamics," he added.
Pankratz was convinced that an exchange program could be a great learning experience, for the students as well as the host families.
"It can be a real learning tool. It gives students from other countries a good education experience, and it also helps families in our community develop a more global perspective," he said.
Two students are currently in the area as a result of the Pacific Intercultural Exchange program, one in Max and the other in Minot. The program places students from various Asian and European countries with families in the US.
"There isn't anything official yet as to who will be here in the future, but when there is a host home available, we go through the process of evaluating the host home and orienting them to the process of hosting. Then there is agreement between the host family and the family back in the other country," Pankratz said.
"We're essentially looking for healthy families, because that's the best place for an exchange student. We look for families that are working well, that are prepared to add something unique to their family mix," he added.
For host families, the experience can broaden their cultural perspective and develop a better sense of their own culture in the process, Pankratz explained.
"The educational aspect of it is important to me. It's kind of fun to see these things develop. The kids have a steep learning curve in adjusting to the culture, the educational system, and living in someone else's home. For them, they really have to mature quickly," Pankratz said.