School Exchange Programs: Promoting Academic Excellence and Cultural Understanding

Dr. Purushothaman
October 16, 2013

School exchange programs give participants from many different countries around the world an all-access pass to study in another country and to discover and explore the wonders of a new culture. The programs became very popular after World War II, and since that time millions of students have had the opportunity to embark on the educational journey of a lifetime, one that fosters a wealth of personal and academic experiences that will never be forgotten.

School Exchange Programs: About the Program, Participants and Host School

School exchanges are programs in which students of a variety of ages have the opportunity to study in a foreign country for a predetermined length of time, usually 10-12 months, or the duration of one school year. The programs are open to high school students, predominantly juniors and seniors, and to students at the university level. There are several countries from around the world that participate in school exchange programs, ranging from countries as far east as China and Japan, to as far west as the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The application process for a school exchange program usually commences one year to 18 months prior to the start of the program. Students are usually required to complete a lengthy application, and will most likely undergo a series of interviews with the program staff to ensure they are a good match for the program. If accepted, they will typically be notified approximately 6 months in advance to their departure, giving them ample time to secure the required travel documents—such as a student visa—make the necessary travel arrangements and arrange for student housing (to be explained later).

When students arrive in their destination country, they will attend a host school, and have the benefit of interacting on a daily basis with their new-found peers. They will learn new teaching and learning methods, make new friends and have plenty of opportunities to share their own experience of living and studying in another country. Students and teachers at the host school will also benefit from the program. They have the opportunity to share a year-long bond with someone who offers a different cultural perspective, a bond where each student brings with them valuable insights and their own unique cultural perspective, allowing both the exchange student and the members of the host school to learn from one another.

School Exchange Programs: Student Housing and Activities

The opportunity to study at a host school is an incredible experience, but academics is only half of what school exchange participants will take away from the program. College-aged exchange students can choose to share an apartment or flat with other students their age, living independently and enjoying the college atmosphere and activities. Some will elect to save money, however, and opt for the same student housing option that is open to secondary students: living with a host family.

Host families, who generally have children roughly the same age as the program participants, are essential to the school exchange program. Not only do they house and feed their international house guests, they support them through by hosting nightly discussions, playing games and helping with homework. On the weekends they all embark upon various cultural events and exciting activities, allowing the exchange student to get a taste for, and fully absorb all the customs, traditions, food, language and fun associated with their host country.

School exchange programs help to promote academic excellence, as well as cultural learning, understanding and tolerance, and those students lucky enough to set off on of these international adventures will have a memorable experience that will help shape their perspective for the rest of their lives.

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