Connecting cultures

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Jexy Rowe matches exchange students with local families

By James Feichtner

Studying abroad is a great way to experience the world while gaining cultural awareness and knowledge of foreign environments. For Geist resident Jexy Rowe, this was something she has been passionate about for the greater duration of her life. Learning from her international experiences studying and traveling in the Eastern hemisphere, the Ecuadorian native is now helping international students experience the United States here in Indiana.

Rowe works as a local coordinator for the International Student Exchange program. Based out of New York, the nationwide program aims to bring international high school students to live in the U.S. with host families while attending local schools.

“The idea of this program is to try to connect cultures, try to connect people from other countries, bring them here so they can be aware about the United States so they can be aware of the real values and principles of American life,” Rowe said. “Then after, these children will go back home and tell about their experiences (in the U.S.) and that will change the minds of their community.”

Rowe, who has past international teaching experience, decided she wanted to help students connect with different cultures after having spent time studying abroad herself.

“I just started, but the idea of joining this program was because I was, myself, an international student, and I’ve been working as a teacher for five years working with different children, different countries, and this is something I’m really interested in and I just want to help these kind of programs,” she said. “I like to connect people because I understand how it feels to be an international student; what your expectations are, what your fears are, what to do if there’s an emergency or who can you talk to. These kind of things, in my time [as a student], I did not have that opportunity, but now I’m here and I can help [international students].”

The ISE program was founded by the United States Department of State in 1982 as an effort to make people more aware of American culture. The nonprofit program is “dedicated to bringing people of the world closer together through student exchange and intercultural education.” ISE works with approximately 40 countries and 120 international organizations.

“What we do if there is an international student that is interested, they will come to one of those international agencies and they will have to meet requirements,” Rowe explained. “Once they meet those requirements the agency will contact us. We make sure the students are very well screened and are qualified.”

As a local coordinator of the central Indiana area, Rowe is responsible for finding a perfect match between the international student and a local family willing to host. Families and students both must follow firm ISE regulations to ensure a proper student-family match.

“As a coordinator we need to come and visit the family in their home and to talk to all the members of the family,” Rowe said. “We need to make sure they live there, that all the members of the family are okay with [hosting], and if the children are over 18 then they need to pass a background check as well. We need to make sure they can offer the room and that they can follow the rules. When everything is approved and the family is accepted, we found a child they would be happy to host and everything is okay, we finish the program by issuing the USDS form that the students need to apply for a Visa.”

Once the students are matched and united with a family, Rowe and other coordinators are responsible for monitoring the family throughout the student’s stay.

“These children that we connect with these families, we monitor them. We monitor how they are doing in their schools, in their families. We have to write a monthly report,” she said. “We monitor the students on a monthly basis and we come and visit the families face-to-face on a bi-monthly basis to make sure everything is ok.”

Rowe said that families can sometimes be skeptical about hosting a student, but she is confident that ISE’s strict regulations and the careful monitoring by local coordinators ensure for a safe and enlightening experience for both the host families and the students.

“Sometimes you can be skeptical because there are many things going on around the world,” Rowe said. “You can be worried about the safety of your family, but I can assure you, this is a program that has been going on for decades. It’s sponsored by the USDS. We are very demanding of the students that we work with; they are very well screened. We also screen the families because we want to make sure we connect the right people.”

Overall, Rowe believes that the program offers an amazing opportunity on both ends of the spectrum, creating cultural tolerance and awareness.

“One of the ways to contribute to the peace of the world is to open your home and to learn more about other cultures, to give [families]that opportunity to learn more about other cultures and what is beyond the United States; cultural awareness,” she said. “It also may lead to your kids to want to study abroad. I think that when raising our children, that tolerance and that opened mindedness to treat people from other cultures the same way, that’s very important. It’s the spirit of being part of a community. It’s the whole world connected.”

For more information on ISE and hosting opportunities, visit their website at http://crossroads.iseusa.org or call Jexy Rowe at 376-0098

Meet Jexy Rowe

Born in Ecuador.

Is fluent in Spanish, Russian and English.

Lived in Russia for nine years

Geist resident married to husband Tim. Has one infant son.

Local Coordinator for the Crossroads Region of International Student Exchange

Favorite aspects of Geist: “What I like in Geist is the neighborhood. It’s very clean, very green. I like the homes there. I like that I feel secure when I’m walking in my neighborhood. Also what I like are the amenities of the community. I like to go see the lake. I like the stores that are around the area. I think that it’s a very secure area. That’s very important to me.”

Favorite Geist restaurants: Detour American Grille and Bar and Zogurts

Favorite movie/TV genre: “I like family movies like animation or movies that have very interesting content, because I am very careful about what I watch. It can be very strong and can affect you. But I really like family movies that have happy endings.”

Favorite past times: “I like reading, I like surfing the Internet and watching the news and knowing what’s going on with the world. That’s one of my passions, but I also personally like getting involved with the community churches.”

Favorite reading material: “If I tell you that I read the Bible more than anything else, would you believe me? I do that because every time I read it I learn new things. In a verse that I have read before that I probably understand, I re-read and I have a revelation. Christian literature is one of my favorites.”

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