ACES Foreign Exchange Students – A New Cohort Arrives

Tracee Ellis explains the ACES program to the new cohort

The Truth Staff

A new group of high school foreign exchange students have arrived in Toledo courtesy of the American Cultural Exchange Service (ACES) program and most of them have expressed a desire to not only learn about a new culture but also to impart to Americans an understanding of the culture of their home countries.

Tracee Ellis, regional director of the local ACES program, held the academic year’s first group discussion with the young students on Sunday, October 8, at the Grace Community Center to explain some of the activities they will be participating in and to encourage them to spend their short time in America to their best advantage.

“This is a discussion about our world, what you can learn and how you can be change agents,” she told the group of 19. “You are here because you are leaders, representing your countries.”

This year’s group includes a number of students who are here on merit-based scholarships, courtesy of the State Department’s YES (Youth Exchange Study) program and the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) program. Both programs are quite selective in the applicants they grant such scholarships to. YES is geared towards students from primarily Muslim countries and FLEX toward Eastern Europe/Central Asia (the former Soviet bloc) students.

This year’s Toledo cohort includes students from Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Thailand, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Palestine, Tanzania and Germany. This 19 student cohort is part of a national contingent of almost 2,000 students in 17 states.

A very interesting group at that.

The Palestinian student actually lives in an Arab community in Israel and asked the State Department if he could affiliate with Palestine as his country of representation – ACES granted permission. The students from Cameroon and Sierra Leone had never lived with indoor plumbing before arriving in the U.S. and arrived with hardly any clothes.

The Mongolian student is recognized as an outstanding pianist. The student from Germany is biracial – German and West African – reflecting a diversity that is increasingly becoming more commonplace around the world.

“You guys are the present and the future,” said Charles Stocking, representing the Rotary Club, told the assembled students. “You cannot underestimate the value of the time you have here.”

This first gathering was part of an effort to impress upon the students the urgency of using their time wisely here, given that these nine months will move rapidly.

Participate in activities, limit your time on the phone calling home, don’t be overwhelmed by the experience, they were told.

“There are expectations for you to do everything you can to make your experience here productive and fun,” said Ellis.