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Cultural Exchanges:

Program of Academic Exchange

familial bondS: Above are the families and students from PAX’s 2011 program in Wilmington, NC. Courtesy photo from Tracy Bickel.

Pax, also known as the program of Academic Exchange, is hoping to place 10 foreign exchange students with host families in the Wilmington area by the end of May. These students range in age from 15-18 years old and come from several countries, including Brazil, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain.

Host coordinator Tracy Bickel has worked with PAX for the past 15 years, since her own children were small, and is enthusiastic about the program. “It has worked out well for me because I could stay home and recruit families to host the students,” Bickel said. “Plus PAX has rewarded my efforts with so many incentive trips. I have travelled all over the world and just recently returned from Cancun!”

The foreign exchange school program lasts 5-10 months and host families provide room and board. Perks to hosting a student are learning a new culture and language, if desired, and forming friendships that may last a lifetime.

“If the family hosts a student the same age as one of their children, who may be taking German or Spanish, there is an opportunity for a live-in tutor,” Bickel said. “A host who has no children can experience the role of a parent. These students sometimes become like a daughter or son, and the relationship lasts forever. It is common to hear host parents say, ‘When are you coming back? Invite me to your wedding!’”

A native New Yorker, Bickel also works with the Student Travel Exchange Program or STEP, a four-week program in Albany for Spanish students. The summer of 2012, she plans to facilitate this same program in Wilmington.

“It will be all fun—no schooling,” she said. “There will be two activities a week—the beach, the Battleship, Thalian Hall, cruises on the Cape Fear River and paddle boating at Greenfield Lake.”

Bickel is also hoping to make students aware of environmental groups, such as Cape Fear River Watch and their efforts to protect Wilmington’s natural resources.

“My experience with the students has been 98 percent good,” Bickel said. “Students and their families have to deal with some homesickness, medical problems and language barriers. We call it the ‘culture-shock curve.’ At first the students are infatuated with the whole idea of being in the States. During the holidays, some miss their families more than others. They’ve had to adjust to the family’s rules, food and behaviors. Come springtime, the students have had time to form friendships and talk about their country to language classes and other groups in the community. There’s the prom and graduation, and the students are happy again.”

“Non from Thailand was one of those really loving people,” Bickel said, “and everyone in his community and host-family loved him back. He was an incredible chef and would cook for his family. We encourage all the PAX students to share their talents.”

There are many foreign exchange programs throughout the country that help support a global consciousness. PAX sites include Boston, Massachusetts, San Diego, California, Saint Augustine, Florida, and Guilford, Connecticut.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton praises the exchange programs as “valuable for citizen diplomacy.” Many of the students want to return and attend an American college or university.

For more information about hosting a student through PAX, call Tracy Bickel at 910-632-4293. Find out more at

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