On Wed. April 4 at 7 p.m. an informational social featuring an unusual State-Dept.-sponsored
exchange program will be held at Wilton Free Public Library on Main St. in Wilton. David Olson
and Paula Widmer, local coordinators for American Councils’ four exchange student programs,
invite interested residents to join them for a casual presentation and sharing about getting
involved at varying levels of commitment with high schoolers from more than 30 collaborating
countries. Light refreshments will be served.
The YES (Youth Exchange & Studies) program brings selected students to the US from
predominantly Muslim countries, from Kyrgyzstan to Indonesia to Saudi Arabia and beyond;
the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange Program) program from former Soviet Union countries
such as Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria; from A-SMYLE (American Serbia and Montenegro Youth
Leadership Exchange) involving Serbia and Montenegro; and ExCEL (Exchanges for Culture,
Education & Leadership Program) from Lithuania. Two hundred high school students are
chosen from many hundreds of applicants, carefully vetted for State-Dept.-funded scholarships
through testing, multiple interviews, academic performance, teacher recommendations,
maturity level, personal goals and commitment to international peace and justice. The
incoming students comprise the best of the best in each of their countries. They are shining
examples of their cultures, intellectually and behaviorally.
The YES program was the post-9/11 brainchild of Senators Ted Kennedy (D) and Richard
Lugar (R), to institute “public diplomacy”, that is, the use of the interaction of common people
from one country with common people from another as a means of building a bridge of
understanding and tolerance between two otherwise misaligned or maligned cultures, rather
than high-placed officials shaking hands in palaces. Last year David and Paula hosted a 16
year old boy from Afghanistan, Farid, an experience that changed their lives, it was so
enlightening, broadening, and rewarding. Their student charmed and opened the hearts and
minds of folks all over Franklin County as he mingled and chatted and shared cultures with
them. It is because of their wonderful experience that the couple decided to stay involved with
American Councils in an official capacity.
This school year Paula and David placed 2 students in our area: Sonja, a girl from Serbia with
a sparkling personality and a daunting array of languages, attending Mt. Blue High School;
and Nayab, a girl from Pakistan at Gardiner Area High School, who loves high school theatre
activities and can be seen riding her bicycle in her flowing scarf and tunic…and reflective vest!
The girls and their host parents will be present at the April 4 social to talk about their
experiences sharing space and cultures.
Some topics to be covered at the discussion: hosting a student for the 10-month school term
and what that entails; serving as a short-term, temporary home for a student who is still
awaiting a permanent placement; inviting a student who lives with a host family out to dinner or
a movie or for a drive to the coast or for a special event; providing respite for a host family who
has an unexpected situation; and simply acting as an overall Friend of the Exchange
Program…promoting its goals and objectives in the community, getting to know a student, or
promoting diversity and tolerance.
An RSVP would be appreciated. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 645-9707.