Wry Exchange

“Country Specialist”
12-21-08, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: , ,

Comment from a reader:  I’m a bit curious about your program. Is the country specialist local or national? What qualifies the person to be a specialist to a particular country rather than exchange students in general?

Good question, and it deserves a complete response.  “Country Specialist” is a descriptive term I made up.  I think each program calls them something specific to the program.  I try to stay anonymous.  I’ll explain what ‘country specialist’ does and why.

A country specialist is the person who sets up the exchange with a particular country.    When we have a student who wants to go to Germany an exchange must be set up.  One person here contacts someone in Germany  and they agree to swap students.  The person here should talk to the student to see where in Germany the student should go, which may not be where the student wants.   (Most students know nothing about a country other than “it’s cool”, or “my friend liked it.”)  Most countries are divided into several areas.  When the exchange is set up, we hope that it will be an ongoing exchange, and our exchange partner will take great care of our student.  We also expect hope their student is trained and screened.

A country specialist has to be willing to devote extra time needed to care for their students in other countries.  Some volunteers prefer to deal with paperwork, activities, or meetings.   People specialize in countries for a variety of reasons.   John likes Italy because his wife is Italian.   Sara likes India because she was an exchange student there.  Kevin does Costa Rico because he loves the country and returns as often as possible.  Susan likes Austria because her daughters went to Austria on exchange.   Seth was ‘stuck’ with France because the French specialist resigned, and no one else speaks French or wants the responsibility.

I like South America.   I’ll happily spend hours working on exchanges with Spanish-speaking Americans.   It’s not a duty, it’s fun.  Husband and I plan to retire to South America.  I have no interest in some countries and cultures, and would resent the time spent.  For example, I’ve been to Germany several times, and it’s not for me.  To me, it seems like everything is black or white, and I see everything in shades of grey.    I’m not interested in learning German or travelling there every few years to keep up my contacts.  I believe I’m knowledgeable about South America, and can help the students. I think it takes a good three years as a general volunteer to learn the program before someone can take on more responsibility as a country specialist.


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