By Valerie Brod, Marketing Contractor

History is being made at the 2012 London Olympics, as it is the first year that every country has sent women athletes—including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei, who previously did not allow it. The 2012 games also coincide with the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, making the Muslim religion a popular topic.  What does this mean for the Olympics?

Many Olympic sports have modified the dress code to allow for women to wear the hijab (head scarf).  In

Yemen’s Fatima Sulaiman Dahman and Oman’s Shinoona Salah Al-Habsi after a women’s 100-meter heat. Photo from The Oregonian (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus).

this year’s Olympics, Muslim women from several different countries have worn the hijab while participating in track, rowing, taekwondo and archery.

To accommodate athletes participating in Ramadan, the athlete’s cafeteria is open 24 hours a day and is serving culturally appropriate meals.  The Olympics have also allowed for teams and athletes to hold practices later in the day.

These Muslim athletes, particularly many women, are embracing their cultural heritage and religious beliefs in a landscape that is vastly different from their own.  Qanta Ahmed, MD wrote in her Huffington Post blog, “As a Muslim I find even more gratifying than the Olympic spirit is the community spirit engendered in the cultural sensitivity and hospitality extended by the global community to the Muslim athletes at London 2012 in particular.”

Ahmed’s comment got me thinking about Muslim high school exchange students who are stepping into America’s culture for an entire school year, not just two weeks.  What does it mean for an American family to host a Muslim exchange student?  How can American families and Muslim exchange students be hospitable and culturally sensitive to each other? We asked past host families with CCI Greenheart and here is some of what they had to say:

New York host mom with her Muslim exchange student.

“We have hosted 6 exchange students over the years, only one of them was Muslim. I would say that the adjustment was no more difficult with a Muslim student than any of the other students. Avoiding pork was no different than avoiding mushrooms or red meat when one of our own kids dislikes those.  I cook what I have planned and am careful to offer a variety when I know there is something one of the kids really hates.

Only one of our exchange students has been a member of our church (we are Catholic). Two have been atheist (with some Buddhist traditions), a couple Christian, and one Muslim. Each of them has respected our traditions and enjoyed sharing our religious holidays. We found that our Muslim student clearly valued family life, enjoyed coming to church with us (and volunteered at church activities), willingly participated in household chores, was respectful and kind, and quickly felt like one of our kids.” – CCI Host mother from Upstate NY

Based on this host family’s comments and the student profiles I have read, I believe that CCI exchange students and host families are very open and ready to embrace both their similarities and differences which will make for a hospitable and culturally sensitive environment.

Despite the language we speak, the different clothes—or athletic apparel—we wear, the diet we eat, or the religious and cultural beliefs that influence our life, it seems to me that we are all looking to embrace our own identity in all our endeavors.