That's what participating in a student exchange program is all about.
Although Jan Engeman has never been an exchange student, she has been a community coordinator for Council for Educational Travel USA since 2005. And she became involved long before that.
Jan and her husband, Tom, served as host parents during the 1984-85 school year to a high school-aged German boy through Youth for Understanding, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting international understanding and world peace through exchange programs.
Jan immediately was smitten with the idea, as she is a strong advocate for world peace.
"I've been to Europe three times," she said. "I love to travel, and I would like to see peace in our world."
And, while student exchange programs cannot sole-heartedly conquer that, Jan thinks they help.
"They help you get to know somebody," she said. "We wouldn't have gone to Iraq if anybody had any friends over there at all. Hopefully, this will make us think twice about starting a war."
CETUSA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Americans and those from other cultures to gain a better understanding of one another.
After becoming involved with the program four years ago, Jan has served as a supervisory figure for exchange students and host families.
"I talk to them every month and see them every eight weeks," Jan said. "I also check with the school, visit and see how they are doing there. Every month, I also do an evaluation of the student and send it into the organization."
She said the program houses around 8,000 students in the United States annually and has seen success throughout N'West Iowa. Last year, students from Poland, Belgium and Germany attended Sibley-Ocheyedan High School, which also was where Maria Stalinksi of Germany was placed this school year.
Jan is looking for placements for students, ages 15-18, for the 2009-10 school year. As the students would arrive in August, she would like to have them placed with a host family by May 1.
"I'm especially going to George-Little Rock, the Orange City schools, Hawarden and Boyden-Hull," Jan said. "Host families in those areas would be good."
Te program does not only work one way, though. Any student in N'West Iowa who wants to participate in an exchange program has the option through CETUSA by way of the outbound exchange program.
"We've never had an outbound student, but we offer a variety of study abroad programs," Jan said. "Programs are offered in France, Germany and Spain, although destinations are available upon request. Depending on the country and the students' goals, they can go for two weeks to 12 months."
The same with the standard exchange program, students have to be 15-18 years old and have a B- or better academic average.
Although Stalinski is the only student in N'West Iowa as part of CETUSA, two other exchange students have found their way to the area by way of other student exchange organizations — Christian Cichy and Linnea vanderAarde.
Each of the three wanted to experience life in the United States, but how they each got to that unified decision is quite unique.
Here are their stories:
Two years go, Christian Cichy went on a Florida vacation.
"It was the first time I had ever been to the United States," said the 17-year-old native of Brunswich, Germany.
He was hooked.
After participating in two two-week exchange programs in France, Cichy knew he wanted to participate in an immersion program for a full school year, and the United States was the place he was going to do it.
So, Cichy did just that.
Here as a part of Student American International, a Connecticut-based nonprofit student exchange organization, Cichy is staying with Dave and April Konz in Alton and attending MOC-Floyd Valley High School in Orange City, where he is a junior.
Although Cichy did not get to chose which part of the country he was placed, he was hoping for a small town as he is from a big city.
After his August arrival in Alton, he was quite bewildered.
"I was surprised," he said. "It's way different."
Upon beginning the school year at MOC-Floyd Valley, Cichy knew he wanted to take advantage of opportunities he would not be able to experience in Brunswick, particularly sports.
"When I think of America, I think of football," he said. "So I thought it would be good to play football."
Cichy did just that during the fall and joined the Quiz Bowl team during the winter.
Now, he is on the soccer team.
With his host family, Cichy has enjoyed taking trips to South Dakota and attending Dave's softball games and the couple's boating team events.
Cichy has kept in contact with his family and friends at home in Germany via the phone and by e-mail.
"I still miss them though," he said.
But, that will not stop him from coming back to the United States.
"I plan to come back for at least a semester while I'm at University," Cichy said.
Maria Stalinski, a 17-year-old sophomore at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School in Sibley, came to the United States from Munich, Germany.
Although she had never been to the United States before, she became fascinated with the country when one of her friends came to visit during summer vacation.
That was when Stalinski knew she wanted to participate in a student exchange program.
"I was fascinated," she said. "I didn't have any other country in mind."
Stalinski, who is staying with Dr. Greg and Deb Kosters in Sibley, arrived in the United States in August and will not return to Munich until June.
Before she embarked on her journey, Stalinski tried not to have any preconceived expectations of how she thought life in Iowa would be.
"It's hard to have expectations when you've never been somewhere before," she said. "I didn't want to think it was going to be one way and not have it be that way."
One thing was for certain, though.
Stalinski wanted to make the most of her experience.
After starting school in the fall, Stalinski became involved in volleyball, band and speech and has now joined the track team.
And, she probably is one of only a handful of high school students that considers school fun.
"I thought it would be harder," she said.
After taking vacations to Los Angeles and Palm Springs, CA and the Black Hills in South Dakota, Stalinski has come to realize just how different the United States is from Germany.
"Towns are so spread out here," she said. "In Germany, we ride the bus or bike to other towns. It doesn't take as long."
Stalsinki also has been impressed with the number of her classmates who have cars.
"In Germany, you can't drive until you're 18," she said.
Sports are not school-related events in Germany, Stalinski noted. Rather, those interested must join athletic teams outside of school.
But, none of that is what Stalinski misses most.
"The food is different," she said.
After Stalinski returns to Munich this summer, she has two more years of school to finish, but she also plans to spend her free time researching green cards, so she can come back and visit in the future.
"I will definitely come back," she said.
Linnea vanderAarde may have come to N'West Iowa as an exchange student from Lincoln, England, but her parents are originally from Iowa.
Her dad, Paul, was raised in Orange City, while her mom, Susan, is from Des Moines. Linnea, who is 16, was born in Maryland and was only 11 months old when her family moved to England so Paul ould pursue his career with the Royal Air Force at the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense.
Although vanderAarde frequently returns to the United States to visit the rest of her family, she wanted to spend an extended amount of time around Orange City, where her grandparents, Stan and Arlene Vander Aarde, still reside.
"My original play was to come in a couple of years and attend Northwestern, but I have no American qualifications and would have had to come as an exchange student," vanderAarde said. "It just didn't work out."
Instead, she decided to attend an extra year of high school and come to Iowa to really get to know her family. While vanderAarde is staying with Murrah and Julie Andersen in Alton, she recently got her wisdom teeth out, so she spent time staying with her grandparents.
"I found out that I'm related to about one-third of the population of Orange City," vanderAarde said.
During her time spent attending MOC-Floyd Valley High School as a junior, vanderAarde has tried to become involved with as many things as possible, such as large group speech, playing clarinet in the pit orchestra for MOC-Floyd Valley's rendition of "Oklahoma" and "Brigadoon" at Orange City's Tulip Festival and attending numerous church retreats.
VanderAarde also has enjoyed attending volleyball, basketball, cross country and soccer events with her host family and has signed on as the girls' track manager for MOC-Floyd Valley High School.
Although vanderAarde misses her parents and younger sister, Emma, she has enjoyed her time spent in N'West Iowa much more than the UK.
"I like the Christian morals and beliefs a lot more here," she said. "Although I attend a private Christian school in England, they teach us nothing about the Bible. I just knew it was a big book with a lot of information, so my friends here have been helping me to understand it. Everyone here is very welcoming and so much easier to talk to."
Upon returning to England on June 20, vanderAarde plans to finish high school and attend University. And, there's no question that she will be back to the states in the near future — all of her family lives here.
This article appeared in the April 25, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.