Foreign exchange student programs are an innovative way of inculcating tolerance for other cultures, by exposing individuals to the ways of living in a foreign country. Although practiced before, the programs became popular after World War II. Despite the use of the word 'exchange', at present, such programs do not necessitate a student from the host country to leave its shores for a foreign student to come in his place. They involve the exchange of students in secondary or higher levels who are mature enough to manage themselves in a foreign country.
Under the exchange program, a student stays with a host family, who are volunteers and agree to let such students stay with them. The US Department of State requires that each adult in the host family undergoes a criminal background check. This ensures the safety of the exchange student.
Benefits of International Exchange Student Programs
While a student lives with the host family, he learns their language, and is exposed to their rituals and beliefs. This first-hand experience helps him understand the reason behind such practices, some of which might have baffled him in the past. Also, the members of the host family also develop a similar understanding of the student's culture and beliefs.
These student programs provide an enriching experience to all the participating students, by exposing them to an environment where they are required to adjust in a foreign country without the help of their family. The transition that students make as they walk out of their comfort zone of their native environment, carving out an identity on their own in a foreign land, gives them the confidence that they would need in their further education or career. It also instills a sense of responsibility and accountability in them.
Types of Foreign Exchange Programs
These programs could be long-term, short-term, and can also be organized at the university level. In a long-term exchange program, students have to stay in the foreign country for a period of 6 to 10 months. During this time, they are expected to lead a life just like a member of the host family. They have to attend school and participate in all the academic and co-curricular activities of the school, just as a native student would do. They are expected to learn the language and take part in all social activities of the host countries. Although in certain cases, exchange students might be required to take a language aptitude test, such requirements vary according to the exchange program as well as the destination country.
Short-term exchange programs are usually summer programs, in which students spend their summer vacation in a foreign country. Not much stress is laid on attending school. Rather, students are more exposed to the cultural learnings of the host country, and visiting various places within the region.
At the university level, students are exchanged between partner universities. In this program, the students of one university completes a part of their study in the partner university, and earn credits for the program they are pursuing at the parent university.
The cost of such programs depend upon its type, duration, destination country, and certain other criteria. There are a number of organizations like the Rotary International that run such programs and provide scholarships for student exchange programs. Certain schools and universities themselves have these programs, and certain colleges also provide assistance to students through grants.
The preparation starts quite early by most of the organizations. The application process may start from 4 to 10 months before the commencement of the actual program. The selection procedure may require one to give interviews. An impressive academic record as well as participation in co-curricular activities ensures better financial support to the student keen on participation.
While they study abroad, not only do the students inculcate greater empathy towards foreign cultures, but they also develop into more mature and flexible individuals who are confident about themselves. In the process, the host families also gain better understanding of the culture of the students who come to stay with them. Hence, these programs are very effective in spreading tolerance for foreign cultures all over the world.