For James and Karen Graham, hosting an international exchange student with AFS has been a way to explore new cultures and make a positive impact.
James’s family hosted an exchange student when he was growing up, and later in life he served as a combat medic, both of which connected him to AFS’s history and mission. (AFS, formerly the American Field Service, was started by volunteer ambulance drivers in World War I.)
James, who had seen much of the world through his service, wanted to bring new cultures and experiences home to his wife. So together they decided to welcome Hira from Pakistan into their family. As first time host parents of an AFS Exchange Student, the Grahams were impressed with the insight Hira could provide into another religion and part of the world.
“It’s just unique; there’s so much we’ve learned from her, and she’s learned from us,” says James of the experience.
Hira is a recipient of the Kennedy-Lugar YES Program scholarship, which brings students from countries with significant Muslim populations to live with host families in the U.S. Through this program, students like Hira and their host families are helping to bring about peace through understanding and cultural exchange.
“I think that she and the community have both learned that we’re all basically the same.” Karen says.
“She has seen that the Muslim world and the Christian world are very similar to each other in their beliefs.” James adds.
Karen describes how Hira has helped the local community understand culture in the Middle East: “I had a lot of misconceptions about the Muslim religion, and she has totally clarified those misconceptions. I think she’s done that as well at school.”
Hira was initially hesitant to live in a small town in the U.S., but then quickly grew to love it. Before long, she was heavily involved in the community as a member of the art club, science club, and student council. She was even nominated for prom queen!
“The community has opened their arms and embraced her in this small town. They tease her as being the rock star!” James says.
Some of the Grahams’ most cherished moments include the time they spent together as a family. “I think my favorite memory of Hira is her ambition to try something new,” Karen explains. “We just have so much fun, and it’s really fun to see her learn to do things that she’s always wanted to do.”
James and Karen enjoyed their experience hosting an exchange student so much that they’ve decided to do it again in the fall. “When you see that kind of relationship develop, there’s absolutely no reason in the world not to host another child and develop that kind of relationship again,” James says. He describes how eager he and his wife are to host their next student, a girl from Indonesia.
This fall, the Grahams will welcome one of the 2,300 high school students arriving from over 90 countries. To find out how you can help bring cultures together by hosting an AFS Exchange Student, fill out our hosting interest form.