This past week, I visited the nine GCY Ecuador Fellows to check–in with them after barely two weeks of living with their new host families and working in their apprenticeships in Imbabura Province, north of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. I was anxious to hear their first impressions of their new environment – would they be happy and comfortable, struggling with the new (slower) rhythm of life, or scared of the unknown? I expected them to share feelings that represented a mixture of all of these, but I was also confident that they were in good hands, under the caring and watchful eyes of their new families and apprenticeship supervisors.
I was confident of this because of the process through which we selected and trained the families and organizations prior to the Fellows’ arrival to Ecuador. Not just any family or any organization can become a GCY partner. Before the Fellows arrived, I spent months looking for local partners or “team members” – as I often refer to them – who could easily commit to GCY’s mission of creating an experience for our Fellows that will help them gain the skills, knowledge, and attitudes characteristic of a Global Citizen. And who are also interested in learning from our Fellows. Undoubtedly, a key criteria for selection is the family or organization’s demonstrated desire to engage in mutual exchange – to learn from the Fellow as much as to support the Fellow’s growth.
Once the families and organizations were selected, I brought them together to learn more about GCY, to understand their strategic role in our programming as our main “team members”, and to share information and tips for how to make the most of the experience with the Fellows. These meetings were critical spaces for exchanging ideas, fears, plans, and questions among the families and apprenticeship supervisors.
For example, two of the families (who would soon take in Lily and Cameron) had already had exchange students living with them in the past. The mothers of these families gave the other families a lot of specific advice, such as how to take care of the Fellow if he or she got sick or how to support them in making friends in the community. In turn, the “newbees” (who would be Caroline, Omar, and Chloe’s host families) were able to ask specific questions or give voice to daunting fears they had, such as whether their Fellow would adapt to their style of cooking or even their rhythm of life.
They were also important for helping the families and supervisors see that they were part of something bigger than themselves, part of a program, and ultimately, a movement. In the meeting with the supervisors, for example, we were able to begin a brainstorm of how this new partnership with GCY could facilitate new alliances among our apprenticeship partners in areas such as community tourism and public health campaigns, mediated by the Fellows. As a result, many of the families – including the young children and adolescents who would soon be the Fellows’ brothers and sisters – and the supervisors left the meetings understanding the responsibilities they were taking on, as well as the great opportunity for cross-cultural learning they were about to receive in the form of a GCY Fellow and by being part of the GCY Team.
When I visited the Fellows this past week, I also visited their supervisors and host families. Through the warm and familiar welcome that each of my local “team members” gave me – taking time out of their work day to tell me about what their Fellows were working on, or insisting on me staying to drink tea and “catch up” – I was acutely aware of how responsible, committed, and caring the host families and apprenticeship supervisors are and how critical they are to GCY’s success. It is for these reasons that I finished the visits feeling more confident than ever before that our Fellows were exactly where they should be: even if they are facing the challenges that such a drastic change can create, I have no doubt that their host families and apprenticeship supervisors will help them find the meaning and sense of belonging that this journey is all about.