Sandra Woods, Regional Coordinator EF High School Exchange Year

Southern California

I would have to say the biggest success story of all is making the choice to host all of my kids — it’s changed our lives for the better and extended our family all over the world!

Monday-Friday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. with a 4 hour break between 3 p.m.- 7pm (For a new IEC, this schedule is much more flexible and can be handled around a normal life/work schedule as a part time job.)

One natural son, Weston (19)
…And 14 exchange children, soon to be 16 (!) including Shizuka (Japan), Max (Russia), Leevi (Finland), Anna (Germany), Svetlana (Moldova), Jaime (Spain), Davide (Italy), Lewin (Germany), Katarina (Slovakia), Martinus (Norway), Felix (Germany), Gijs (Netherlands). And soon to arrive are Nika from Slovakia and Teresa from Italy.

Painting and drawing. I try to paint at least one entry into my sketchbook every day.

Flea Market Finds and FLOW magazine from The Netherlands

Penny Dreadful, Criminal Minds, Walking Dead, Naked and Afraid

My iPad Pro or iPhone,
WhatsApp so I can text with all my kids around the world for free and at the moment I love a website called CreativeBug.com because there are tons of great art/craft classes!

Ha! Not my strongest point, but I would say prepping dinner early in the day and letting my students help with chores. I am typically the type that just does it all myself, but it’s good to let them help!

Day trips around the area, family movie night, cooking or baking together, shopping around, crafting, helping with homework, etc. It’s actually the simpler things that connect us the most.

It helps with patience, understanding and that feeling of what you would want someone to do for your child if they were gone for a year. You need to turn each situation around and ask yourself how you would want someone else to handle a situation with your own child, but it’s also great because we have great experiences that we can use to help us with everyday life with our exchange students. It’s basically like a training course that never stops, it’s great, I feel like I learn new things all the time that I can add to my left of training and accomplishments.

1. You’re a Regional Coordinator for Education First (EF), an organization that places international exchange students with families for a year. How did you get started with EF?

I started as a host family, I was a graphic designer by trade and was designing a local newspaper which included an ad to host short term Russian students and I signed up! I have a bit of Russian background and thought it would be a great way to learn more about my heritage as well as help a young person live a dream.

After that, we went straight to the longterm program which was much more satisfying in the sense that you really have enough time to become “family” and form a lifetime bond that never ends. Half way into my first full year student, Leevi from Finland, I was asked to become a local exchange coordinator.

2. You’ve hosted 14 exchange students in your own home. What has this experience been like for you and your family? Do you plan to continue to host students now that your son is in college?

The experience has been amazing, I still talk with ALL of my long-term students regularly. Davide is at University in Milan studying to be a surgeon, Jaime has just been offered a full scholarship in Florida for rowing (he is a world champion in rowing), Lewin’s American high school sweetheart has recently moved to Germany and they are still together planning for their future, and Leevi is working towards his second bachelor’s degree and the list goes on.

It’s amazing to have them all as part of our family, they come back to visit, we go visit them as well. Our son Weston will travel to Norway this summer to visit our Norwegian son, Martinus.  The bond is strong and you remain family forever. We definitely plan to continue hosting and have already chosen two girls for this upcoming high school year, Teresa from Italy and Nika from Slovakia.

3. It sounds like you plan some fun events for the students hosted in your area. Can you give us some examples?

Each year myself and a couple of other local and regional exchange coordinators plan a big camp at Carpinteria Beach where we camp out for two nights on the beach campground and have activities and games throughout the weekend including surf lessons for those who are interested. I usually plan a big Halloween party for my students since this is not a holiday many of them celebrate the way we do here in the United States, and then we often do a drive-in movie night, a trip to Hollywood/Los Angeles, and other small get togethers like pizza night or movie nights. I try to find a good balance where there are some activities for the students, but not so many that we are pulling them from their host families either. We want them to have that bond with their families that never leaves!

4. As a Regional Coordinator you also have had a chance to be a manager and a leader. Tell us a little about some of this aspect of your role and what it means to you.

In this role I do my best to motivate my team, support them throughout the year with their student placements, and offer training workshops to help them become better involved and educated so they can have a great year with all of their families and students. I love this role because I’m able to share what I have learned and what has really worked well for me throughout my history with EF. It’s also very rewarding to be a supportive role to such a great team who is dedicated to the cause.

5. What have you learned about yourself in this role?

I’ve learned so much about myself. I’m one of those people who, by nature, never stops to relax for a moment, never asks for help and tries to control most things around her. In this role I have learned to delegate tasks, to stop and relax every now and then, to allow others to help and offer advice, and to rely on and have faith in a team of amazing people. I have learned to have patience and how to be a positive, supportive role model to my team as well as students and families. I have learned that I had more to offer than what I had originally set my path to give. It’s a very rewarding experience.

Learn more about working at EF High School Exchange Year and how to apply!