By Maggie Dziubek, Administrative Assistant, High School Programs.

It isn’t unusual for Greenheart students to ask to be placed in a specific state or region. Many students request well-known states like New York or California, small East Coast towns, or a beachside life in Florida. That’s why, when Zilin, a current CCI Greenheart F-1 High School Program participant from China, requested to be placed in Alabama it was clear he was looking for an experience that would take him off the beaten path.

This is Zilin’s third year as an exchange student. He spent his first year as a J1 High School Program student, extended on to the F1 program last year, and is now spending his senior year at Eastwood Christian School in Montgomery, Alabama.

Zilin said he chose Alabama because he’d met some people from the state, and they were really friendly, so he thought it must be a great place to live. He says he loves being surrounded by beautiful countryside and living in a state ‘where the skies are so blue.’

The warmth of his small Southern community has really made an impression on Zilin. He goes to a school with only 200 students, so everybody knows each other pretty well, which he really enjoys. One time, when he was stressing out about his score on a college entrance exam, Zilin remembers feeling encouraged by people from the community who would remind him that there’s more to life than a high test score.

“Whoa. That’s different.” he remembers thinking.

Zilin attends a Christian church with his host family, another big change from his life in China, where he says religious practice wasn’t very common. He likes the emphasis on service in his host family’s church, and has really made an effort to log volunteer hours with the Greenheart Club.

“We’re supposed to help people who need help,” Zilin said, “If I don’t do it, who will?”

Through his volunteer experience, Zilin has been able to try new things and meet new people. In his hometown in China he says most people live in high-rise apartments, so for him, helping a neighbor with yard work or redoing a deck for an underprivileged family is an exciting opportunity to work outside and learn how to use different tools.

Zilin says his number one piece of advice to new exchange students is to be open to asking for help from your host family and Local Coordinator.

“It takes trust,” he said, “but once you realize they’re there to help you everything will be easier.”

Zilin is hoping to stay in Alabama to pursue a college degree next year. In the meantime, he is looking forward to joining the school’s tennis team, logging more Greenheart Club volunteer hours, and finishing his senior year out strong.

Are you looking for a unique experience in a warm and welcoming community? Apply for CCI Greenheart’s F-1 High School Academic Program.