International Experience, a high school student exchange organization, announced that they plan to welcome a record number of students to U.S. communities in the fall of 2015, mirroring a national trend. According to CSIET (Council on Standards for International Education Travel), 200,000+ exchange students are expected in 2015.
As the leading English-speaking host country of foreign exchange students, our nation as a whole has seen an increase in high school exchange participants of about 13% in the past decade (CSIET 2013; 2014). This upward trend is expected to continue as a growing number of international students seek both English fluency and cultural competency to prepare for the increasingly global marketplace.
When U.S. communities engage with a growing number of international students, local schools and families benefit from the cultural interactions they inherently provide.
“Every year our state plays host to many talented, top-of-their-class students with the lifelong dream of studying in America,” says Emily Rolin, iE-USA’s Regional Director, “and our communities reap the rewards.” Rolin, who boasts 10 years of work in student exchange, says that each student who visits her community brings with them a unique perspective. “We have the opportunity to see through their eyes: to explore another culture not through travel, but through relationships.”
Though many high schools once viewed exchange participants as “extra” students requiring the attention of teachers and staff, the popular opinion among administrators is shifting to favor exchange student enrollment as a natural way to integrate differing worldviews into the classroom. The U.S. Department of Education has stressed the importance of building the global competencies of U.S. students to make them internationally competitive, and many believe that welcoming exchange students into the high school setting can help toward that end.
“As a principal, I truly appreciate the opportunity to host foreign exchange students on a yearly basis,” says Principal Kevin O’Neill of Vicksburg, Michigan. “The infusion of a variety of cultures into our high school has been an invaluable experience for our students.”
Families who host an exchange student often benefit on a more personal level, forming family ties that last far beyond the boundaries of the exchange. Hosting an international student offers these local families a realistic way to explore a new culture right at home. “My wife and I wanted to travel the world, but we both worked full time, so we brought the world to us!” remembers Dave Long, a retired Vietnam veteran who has been hosting exchange students since 1982.
“Our family has been blessed in so many ways by student exchange,” says Sara Lee, whose family has hosted 3 iE-USA students in the past 5 years. “We consider our students to be a part of our extended ‘international’ family!” The Lees recently returned from Colombia, where they visited their previous exchange students’ families and toured the local countryside.
iE-USA’s exchange student participants are between the ages of 15-18 and come from many countries including Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand, Montenegro, and Argentina. Each student undergoes an extensive application process and is responsible for his/her own spending money and health insurance coverage. A list of current students can be found online at http://usa.international-experience.net/.
Host families (traditional families, singles, empty nesters, etc.) provide a supportive home base for their student for a semester or full academic year. Visiting students participate as active members of the family, integrating into their daily routines and traditions just like any other family member.