Staff Member Spotlight: Heidi Smith

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Tell us a little about CHI and your role at the company.

Cultural Homestay International is a non-profit cultural exchange organization that was started in 1980. CHI mainly works with inbound programs (such as the Summer Work and Travel Program, the Internship/Trainee Program, the Au Pair Program, and the American Year Program).

My role at CHI is in the Outbound department. I am the Program Manager for the English Conversation Volunteers Abroad Program. I am very happy with my position because it gives me the chance to send Americans to other countries, which is something I am very passionate about after living abroad for 9 years myself.

How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?

I got involved in the volunteer industry after I moved back to the U.S. from Europe, and wanted to help other people experience living in a different country. Learning about new cultures can be one of the most inspiring and eye-opening things we can do to better our own lives. Plus, the fact that I am sending people abroad to help other people is another part of the job that makes me feel good about the work I am doing.

What makes CHI unique?

CHI is unique because we have been bringing cultures together through exchange programs for over 30 years. The founders truly believe in their mission, which makes for an ideal work situation. The experiences CHI has created for people over the years is extremely impressive. The international atmosphere in the office also provides daily doses of cultural exchange.

In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?

A good volunteer should be open, eager and excited about the culture and people they are going to meet during their program. They should not be afraid to try the local food and they should make an effort to become a part of the community they are placed in.

What are CHI's most popular programs and locations?

CHI’s most popular program is the Summer Work and Travel Program that brings international students to the U.S. to work for four months. We sponsored about 6,000 students this summer.

The ECVA program is fairly new, I just started working on it last year. So far, our most popular destinations have been Japan and Spain. However, some people venture off to more exotic destinations such as Kazakhstan and Colombia.

How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?

We ensure that the ECVA program is sustainable for the participants and the host families and their community. By enabling volunteers the means to teach conversational English in an informal setting, the program is both fun and meaningful. The foreign community is given the opportunity to learn another language and new things about American culture.

The volunteers are also given the chance to try learning a new language and absorbing cultural insight through their experiences abroad. And I feel good about giving people a way to learn more about themselves and others by living abroad!