As we kick-off the 2022-23 exchange season, we are excited to announce that this is NWSE’s 35th year sponsoring cultural exchange programs! To celebrate this milestone, we want to thank all the host families, exchange students, international partners, staff, coordinators, schools and school districts across the U.S. and around the world that have participated in and supported our program and mission! Read on as NWSE Executive Director Jeff Laband shares the origin story of NorthWest Student Exchange, challenges and successes encountered along the way, and thoughts on NWSE’s future.
After all these years, I thought it might add to your day’s enjoyment if I were to say and write a few words about how and why NWSE is here in 2022. So without further ado, please read my perspectives on why we do what we do, and how all of us fit into the cultural exchange community.
I founded NWSE in Seattle way back in 1987 as a reciprocal exchange program, originally meant to be a foreign studies program as part of the high school foreign language program offerings where I was at the time teaching German. Though the school and district in Seattle suburbia recognized NWSE as an excellent educational opportunity for their students, they never ended up integrating it into the curriculum under school district management. By 1995, NWSE had grown to the point where I was compelled to choose between continuing to teach 90-120 students/day, or pursuing NWSE full time. Pursuing the latter would allow me to create genuine foreign language immersion and cultural learning opportunities for up to three times as many students each year. Having chosen the latter, 1995 proved to be a pivotal year, and my last year in the classroom.
Making that choice did not occur without some serious grief and sadness at losing the daily interaction with eager students and committed teaching colleagues and parents. Yet what I learned as a teacher has proven to serve NWSE well for all these years, helping to successfully navigate world macroeconomic challenges, transportation strikes, the fall of the Berlin Wall, epi- and pandemics, bank collapses, unpredictable local national and international governments… Somehow, for 35 years we have been able to successfully cooperate with great students and our sending organizations from just about everywhere in the world save Antarctica!
NWSE has also adapted with the times. I believe that we were one of the very first 5 exchange organizations in the early 1990s to launch a website (I hired one of my former students to program it!!). By 2019, we grew to fill a 4000 square foot office – only to face being closed down virtually forever by COVID and international governments, who shut their respective borders to all educational travelers. The resilience and commitment by our wonderful staff helped us survive. Fast forward to moving into 2023, we have enjoyed a new office space since August 2022 at less than half the rent but more than half the space than before – with most of our office staff now on a “hybrid” working schedule.
Most importantly for me, though, are the friendships and memories. Without the excellent colleagues we have been blessed with along the way, none of this would be remotely possible. Where we are today is an aggregate of all the successes achieved by those who came before and still remain. I am also very very fortunate to have met some very very stellar people through NWSE activities: students, parents (both sending and host), our own family’s German exchange daughter, school personnel and all those who work and worked with our NWSE students over the years…a uniquely amazing and inspiring group of individuals with common bonds including educational travel and making the world a better place via cultural exchange.
My decision to leave teaching, all the people…and the “job security plus benefits” that go along with what is in many respects a “government job” was something my dad at the time deeply questioned, to put it mildly. Looking back on it now, I really had absolutely no clue at the time about the life-long, absolute nature of the high risk of making such a decision, and my dad did not err in his rightly having questioned my “crazy” decision.
Well, all these years later, to loosely reference “In My Life” by the Beatles (is there anyone among us who has not in some way been influenced by them??): Though people and things that went before may not be around today, and while some are gone and some remain, I very often stop and think about them…In my life, I’ve loved them all.
Let’s now fast forward again to today, and let us rival the best successes of previous years, this year in NWSE Year 35! Enjoy your exchanges, and as always, stay in touch.
With Best Regards,
NorthWest Student Exchange