Students from China and South Korea arriving this fall in Muncie to study at the Indiana Academy will be residing with host families in Muncie.

Foreign Links Around the Globe (FLAG), a non-profit student exchange organization, hosts more than 500 students from over 51 countries, according to its website. At the Indiana Academy, the students this year will be coming from China and South Korea.

“We are helping place them with host families that would open their lives up for student,” said Robyn Whaley, regional chapter leader overseeing around 70 students coming to Kokomo, Daleville and Muncie.

Whaley said it was a “great way to bridge the gap” between America and these countries and it gives families and students an “opportunity to learn about the opposite culture.”

She said families can involve themselves through two opportunities: as a community family, where students live in the academy’s dorms and spends time once a month and during breaks or holidays with the family, or have a student live with the host-family full time during their first year at the academy.

With the former, families don’t necessarily need to live in Muncie, but just pick up the student once a month, and with the latter, families have to live in Muncie or on the bus route to go back and forth to school.

FLAG, which has been around for 30 years, has partnered with Indiana Academy for around five to six years, Whaley said. The small number of students in its programs was due to the CEO/founder of the organization focusing on building relationships and partnerships between students and their host families.

“It’s small by design, but that was on purpose because the CEO/founder wanted it to be more of a family, intimate type of company,” Whaley said.

She said Indiana Academy accepts around 10-15 students each year primarily from Asian countries and right now FLAG is on the lookout for three more families to finish placing students.

Families like that of Lynn Pike, a FLAG local coordinator and host mom, will be hosting two students from China this year.

Lynn Pike poses for a photo with the international students and her family. Pike will be hosting two students from China this fall, as part of Foreign Links Around the Globe's (FLAG) partnership with Indiana Academy. Robyn Whaley, Photo Provided

Apart from Pike and her husband’s interest in other cultures and experience with mission trips abroad, Pike was also motivated by a childhood experience. At age 14, her family hosted a girl from Paraguay which didn’t work out as the student couldn’t adjust to life away from the city.

“It broke my heart. I think from that time on I’ve always wanted to grow up and keep inviting the world into my home,” Pike said. “I just really wanted to reach out to other cultures and learn what I can from them.”

She has four children of her own, but two of them being out of the house allowed Pike and her family to have “room in our house and in our hearts.”

“We consider them our kids. We treat them like our kids,” she said. “We try to love them and relate with them like they’re our own kids. We call them our son and they call us mom and dad.”

Pike said while the students enjoy experiencing and learning more about American culture, the most difficult part is being away from friends and family and acclimating to a different cuisine.

“It’s a huge blessing for me to be considered a mother to another child from across the world,” she said. “It’s an honor that the parents of these kids entrust their kids to us.”

She believes it’s good to welcome, learn from and interact with people, especially when their countries are political rivals.

“I think it's good for them to have a personal relationship with people from those countries,” she said. “It expands their minds and it makes them more open to differences.”

While Pike has never traveled to China, she hopes to someday be able to visit all the cities and provinces that her now four students have come from. She hopes the relationships she builds “last a lifetime.”

“To me it’s just a great experience and making connections with the other side of the world and just being hospitable and loving toward other cultures,” she said.

The 2018-19 students at the Indiana Academy pose for a photo. For families like that of Lynn Pike it is about opening one's heart and home to welcome, learn and interact with people of other cultures. Robyn Whaley, Photo Provided 

Contact Rohith Rao with comments at rprao@bsu.edu or on Twitter @RaoReports.