From The Rotarian:
Mara Egherman, a college librarian, was sitting at her desk when she saw an email pop up: Ryan Ahmad, a Muslim exchange student in Iowa from the Philippines, needed a place to stay. There had been trouble at his school, and he’d been beaten up by a fellow exchange student.
Egherman flashed back to her 16-year-old self, alone in a foreign country. “I knew I had to take this kid in,” she says. As a high school student, Egherman had applied for an exchange program in South Africa. But after arriving in Johannesburg in 1982, she discovered that her host family had racial notions that dovetailed with those of the apartheid regime. Egherman was forbidden from speaking to the help. The family considered Nelson Mandela (then still in prison) a terrorist. And they kept a cache of weapons in a closet for protection. For a teenager from the Midwest, this was disorienting – and eye-opening. Egherman saw people being treated in ways she’d never imagined.
Yet at school, she made lifelong friends, one of whom invited her home for the last few months of her exchange. Egherman’s new family couldn’t have been more different, with three sisters and lots of laughter. Because that friend reached out to Egherman, her exchange experience was a positive one. She came home a changed person, with an enhanced ability to imagine the lives of people in other places. That was the whole reason she’d signed up to go abroad.