Has International Experience Changed Your Life?

Leaving for the UK in 2001

Starting my own international adventure

In college I was determined to study abroad. I was young, and my family and friends didn’t really get it. But, I departed from the US for the UK a week after September 11th, 2001. I had been inspired to see the world by a handful of high school students from Japan, Spain, Chile and Poland, who had taken the huge leap across the world a few years earlier. When my family hosted a young girl from Japan in the summer of 1995, it was the first time that I realized how small the world was. Over the course of two weeks I discovered that Japan was not foreign or far away. Sure, the culture is dramatically different from the United States, but it’s wasn’t ‘weird’ and ‘strange’ like my American classmates thought. My new friend from Japan was no different from me, braver, but not so different. We talked about boys, shoes, clothes, school, our dreams; and bonded over discovering the fascinating differences between our cultures. That summer we were just two young girls, chatting, hanging out.

In the fall, a young girl from Spain was due to join my high school for the year. Her host family fell through at the last minute and my parents were approached to host her. They were nervous about having a second teenage girl in the house, but they  took a leap of faith. Twenty years later, Jessica and I are still friends. Separated by miles, but eternally linked.

highschool international kids

Too cool for school, but bonded for life. Geka, Radek, Jessica and Michelle – 1997

It’s taken me years to fully appreciate what my family did that year. As a parent now myself, working and trying to keep our busy family ticking along, it terrifies me to think of inviting a teenager into our home for a year. What if? What if! What if?!

But, looking back at my own experience, having had the chance to connect and really bond with so many other kids from all around the world, has given me something indescribable. My life is immeasurably different than it might have been. My family, my career, my passion, is all because these students were brave enough to go abroad. They were changed because of their experience, and so was I.


still friends after 10 years

Michelle and Radek – 2006

If you have ever considered hosting a student, if you have a spare room, or a spare bed, if you want to help support a student who is itching to explore the world – now is the time. Students from across the globe are still awaiting placements for this coming school year. Wouldn’t a year abroad in the Bay Area be amazing? Do you want the gift of a smaller world for you and your family?

Contact Cynthia (c.rouillard@international-experience.net) at International Experience  for more details.


About Michelle Laker

A California native; I spent 10 years living, studying, working, (and falling in love) in the United Kingdom. I returned to the Bay Area in 2011, with my British husband in tow. I am re-adjusting to life in the bay, feeling more like an expat than a local. I have spent my career working with international student & families. I love learning about other cultures, languages, and traditions. My desire to welcome newcomers, and help you make the most of your new life in the Bay Area comes from the unforgettable memories (and mistakes) I made during my time in the United Kingdom. If you've just arrived, and don't know where to start, email me (michelle-at-lifeinthebay.org). I am happy to help!

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