Courtesy Photo
Exchange students, from left, Isabel, Izaro, Aun, Celine and Hellen spent last school year in Lincoln County.

Have you ever had the desire to make a difference in others’ lives, including around the world, without even leaving Lincoln County?

Through the International Cultural Exchange Service (ICES) program, families in Lincoln County can host an exchange student for the school year. These teenagers come from all over the world.

The exchange program was originally developed after WWII, with a goal of promoting world peace and inclusion. It was important to put a face to the people of Germany and drive home the point that not all Germans were the enemy.

Fast-forward today, and having teenagers come to Lincoln County to exchange cultures and ideas remains a great opportunity. Stephanie Thornock of Panaca, the program coordinator for Lincoln County, is excited about this year’s group. “Hosting students is a way to promote world peace and understanding. What can we do? We can make a difference,” Thornock said.

In her fourth year of coordinating, Thornock has loved getting to know the host families and teenagers alike. She said, “I find a great appreciation of different cultures. We really all have the same desires. We all want to be more loving and kinder to each other. In that way, they are just like us.”

Last year’s students came from places including Germany, Spain and Brazil. The students truly enjoyed living in Lincoln County. One of them expressed, “People are so open-minded and friendly here. The school spirit is so strong, the students and teachers are close and very strong sense of community. We truly never felt like a stranger here.”

Celine from Germany was involved in volleyball and became a team manager. She was also involved with softball and the Broadway musical put on by Lincoln County High School. “In Germany, there is no extracurricular activities besides core classes. So to learn about USA sports was something I wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience any other way.”

The Lester family from Panaca hosted Celine last year and called her a “dream exchange student.” They said, “She was such a joy to have in our home. Both families are now connected for life! Not only just us, but our extended family as well!” Sarah Lester said that as her family prepared for Celine to arrive, they all Skyped to get to know one another. After she arrived, it took away the awkwardness and they were friends before the school year even began.

Isaro from North Spain had great experiences and offers the following advice for future host families and students: “Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to new experiences! Be brave! It was the best year of my life.”

Katie and Ryan Lee, who hosted Isaro, said, “We will definitely do it again.” Katie’s advice for future families is to “go into it with a really open mind. Kids come from different backgrounds and family life. Harvest an open and honest relationship. There are many similarities as well as differences in every aspect. Embrace and love being both a friend and a parent figure.”

Isa from Spain, who spent the year with the Anderson family, expressed her appreciation and said, “Now I have two families on two different continents. The friends I made here, I will have for life.”

Thornock also focuses on service projects. This past year, exchange students helped clean up the road from Panaca to the Y.

“I believe it is important that these students learn the lesson of service and giving back to the community,” she said.

Thornock said she has students from 20-plus countries that could potentially come to the county as exchange students.