American students are learning invaluable lessons by experiencing foreign culture firsthand through an exchange program that Delaware City Schools has honored with the Trimble Equity Award.
Youth for Understanding USA (YFU) is a nonprofit program that places 2,000 high school students from foreign countries into American homes and schools in all 50 states. It also places close to 1,000 American students in numerous foreign countries.
YFU was presented with the Trimble Equity Award at district's annual convocation because of the program's commitment to sharing cultures and equity.
YFU has placed foreign students at Delaware Hayes High School and has sent Hayes students abroad for more than 20 years.
YFU Field Director Gary Shumaker said the program is a great way for students to share their culture and overcome stereotypes.
"Foreign students get to see what American culture is really like, as opposed to what they see on TV or portrayed in Hollywood," he said.
Shumaker said that the door swings both ways and American students are learning the truth about other cultures as well.
"An American student asked a student from Thailand if he rode an elephant to school," Shumaker said. "The student responded, 'No , my dad drives a Honda.' It really helps to break down those stereotypes." Shumaker has been a part of some large gatherings of foreign exchange students, where there are 50 kids from 40 different countries.
"Watching these kids interact is amazing," he said. "Students from Japan and Argentina are developing friendships they never would have developed. It really makes the world a smaller place."
Last year, for the first time, a foreign exchange student from Albania was among Delaware Hayes High School graduates, Shumaker said.
"She had a 4.0 grade point average, was very involved in the community and was a great student," he said.
Scholarships are available for students who want to participate in the program but don't have the funds, particularly German students and students from Muslim countries, he said.
Each school can decide how many exchange students it will host each year; Delaware City Schools allowed five students this year.
Shumaker said Superintendent Paul Craft was an exchange student himself and is a promoter of the program.
Shumaker's family has been a host for eight years and still keeps in contact with all the students who have stayed with them, he said.
"I really value this program, and it's a great opportunity for everyone," he said. "We are always looking for host families and students interested in learning and sharing their culture."
More information about Youth for Understanding USA is available online at yfu.org.