Happy New Year, everyone. I’m writing from beautiful Sapa, Vietnam on our last morning here in Vietnam’s hill tribe country. First, may 2017 surpass your expectations for good health, happiness and adventure. 2016 was definitely a year for the record books. For my family, 2016 was the last year of a stretch of challenging life changes.
In this New Year’s post, I am introducing a project that I’ve been working on with The SOLD Project (please see my last post). The Homestay and Cultural Exchange Program will give SOLD’s scholarship recipients an opportunity to live with an expat family, to be immersed in their language of study, and to experience life abroad without leaving Thailand. Our long term goals for this program are to give foreign students the opportunity to live with a hill tribe family, and to prepare our scholarship recipients for overseas study.
As I wrote about in my last post, education and career opportunities for children in the hill tribe communities of Northern Thailand are impossible without scholarships and mentorship. Also, for all Thai citizens, the key to career advancement is an education and English proficiency. That advantage is also clear here in Northern Vietnam, where hill tribe communities face the same challenges as in Thailand. The skilled English speakers run the businesses, they are leaders in the trekking groups, they clearly receive the higher incomes and respect from their community. The children in the village mimic their English and the foreign languages of the tourists, hoping to one day become one of the lead guides. Also in Thailand, upward advancement is brought on by improved English skills, whether you are a teacher in a remote village or business person in Bangkok.
Personally, my hope for this program is to give students a deeply personal experience that I was fortunate enough to have in my 20’s. At the end of my first time living in Japan, I lived with the Takahiro family for 3 months. The impact of this experience would not be clear for years to come, but it changed the course of my life, directing me towards career I had never expected, adding a richness to my life that continues today.
Last summer we hosted a university student, a SOLD scholarship recipient. Our student was in her second year of university, studying to become an English teacher. While this may seem pretty ordinary to most of us, the obstacles to achieving that goal are daunting.
Our student’s baclground was not unlike Cat in the video. She was born in a hill tribe village on the Lao border, in Thailand’s poorest province in the northeast. Her mother works hard as a rice farmer, struggling to support her 3 children. Without official citizenship, an advanced education and any type of financial assistance for her children was unavailable. Our student was a prime target for sex trade recruitment. She is strong, beautiful and compassionate. She was influenced by an English speaking teacher who visited her primary school class once. Now, she wants to be that influence for students in her village.
Together with two of SOLD’s heroes, we came up with the Homestay and Cultural Exchange Program. During university break next summer, scholarship students will stay with an English or Mandarin speaking family to experience their first taste of life abroad. By immersing them into these families’ lives and a foreign language, we hope to give them an experience that may lead to overseas study. Our expat communities are uniquely suited to aid in this experience. We are now looking for families in the Chiang Mai area, families who speak English or Mandarin at home, to host a student for a two week period, during June and July of 2017.
If you would like to hear more about this program, you can email me, or follow our Facebook page, Homestay and Cultural Exchange Program for more information and upcoming dates. An information session will be held at Prem, January 13, 2017 at 1pm. Please contact me for the final location.