Bridgewater Raritan School District does not host year-long exchange students. While I lament our large class sizes, I really believe that this cultural experience brings a lot to the host community and is worth an extra few bodies in a high school of approximately 3000 students.
Yesterday this experience brought me financial gain. Who would have thought that twenty five years after meeting her, I would go into business with another foreign exchange student? Although we have been in planning stages for months, this weekend we launched our business and made our first sale.
It's terribly short-sighted that we don't host students. Bridgewater should, at a minimum, have a one-for-one policy (if a student goes on exchange, we can host a student in his or her place). There are lots of stories of how exchange years change students, and enriches host families, and the community at large, but it's something quite different to hear (or even write) about a business venture that starts twenty-five years afterwards! When I wrote my essay about why I wanted to be an exchange student, I'm sure I used the same expressions that are in the marketing materials: I wanted to "expand my horizons" and "try new experiences" or even "make new friends" and "learn a new language". And while I've been paid for translations many times (so you can argue I've already had financial gains), this life-changing adventure is not what I expected even two years ago, much less when we met in Helsinki in 1986.
I know there is little I can do to change the Superintendent's mind about exchange students. It would be different if we were trying to host one (which we should do, but I can't imagine at this point - besides, we host plenty of foreign guests already). Still, I can't help but appreciate even more that my school in Lahti welcomed me - enriching my life, and making friendships that have endured two and a half decades.
I've written about doing things beyond my comfort zone many times over the years, which started in 1986. At the risk of overusing this metaphor, I'd say this is another one of those times. Long live the unexpected adventure! Fasten your seat belts. It may be a bumpy ride!