A Fair Exchange

SPIRAL International, located and founded in Burlington, VT, became a corporation in January 201o and describes itself as an “educational organization that promotes inter-cultural learning, understanding and relationships through international student placement services and exchange programs.” The acronym SPIRAL stands for what the organization offers: Special Programs for Intercultural Relationships and Learning, helping international students to enroll in American schools and colleges and setting them up with home-stays abroad.
On their website at www.spiralinternational.org, a Woodrow Wilson quote is cited, “Our interest are those of the open door – a door of friendship and mutual advantage.” It is followed by the text, “SPIRAL dedicates itself to building pathways to international friendship and empowering the young people of the world to become responsible global citizens.”
The program got it’s start when founder, Dr. Kenneth Hood, emeritus faculty at the University of Vermont, saw a growing desire of Chinese parents to send their children to schools in the United States and helped found UVM’s China Project in 1986. Since them, he and Dr. Emily Guo, who was born in Beijing and has lived and taught in the United States for over 20 years, have established partnerships with schools in China and Thailand and, in the last three years, have arranged successful home stays for over 500 Asian visitors.
Because Dr. Hood lives in the state and the organization has essentially grown up here, hundreds of Chinese and Thai students have been sponsored by the organization to come to live and study in Vermont. Despite the length of the program, the students almost always stay with an American family, an experience that breeds lifelong friendships and a deeper cultural understanding.
Some of the programs that SPIRAL International offers to visiting students are Intensive English Study courses, summer language and cultural camps, language tutoring, academic year residencies, professional development, college prep studies, various training courses and more.
Inherent in the nature of the program, participation is required on both the visiting side and the American side. The organization says that American students are one of their most valuable resources and critical to the success of the program and the experience of the visiting students.
“SPIRAL organizes field trips, English language institutes, cultural and environmental learning experience for international students; and offers study abroad opportunities, inter-cultural trainings, workshops and seminars for American students.”
Every year, for summer language and culture camps, SPIRAL international looks for about 15 American students from the area that are interested in joining the 2-week American culture and language camp as ambassadors, or helpers in learning English. This camp is for a group of about 20 international students of middle school and high school age who come to Vermont to spend 12 days socializing and going on field trips in the community. In the evenings and on weekends, the Chinese visitors spend time with their American host families.
The American students participate throughout the day with the group, both in language classes and field experience, free of charge. They also have long-term programs where American students can encourage their own families to act as hosts for an international student.
A couple of American participants described their experience with SPIRAL International. When asked what the most rewarding aspect of the program was, one student responded: “Making personal connections with the Chinese exchange students – people with a different language, lifestyle, and in most cases, belief system. It was so great to find the qualities and interests that unite us.”
Other participants spoke of gaining an understanding of the opposing culture, making new friends, and the special experiences that they had with the students. American participants also have the opportunity to learn about themselves, and to improve on certain social skills such as leadership and conversational skills, as well as stepping outside of your comfort zone and engaging with people who are of a different background then yourself.
SPIRAL International has a mission statement that blends their social and academic goals for students both domestically and abroad: “to promote high quality working relationships through educational opportunities and everyday authentic experiences.”
By Neel Tandan