July 12, 2022

The 10 Details That Set the Best Foreign Exchange Student Programs Apart

Five teenage participants in a foreign exchange student program pose on rocks beside the water, smiling.

There are many programs that bring exchange students to the United States. There are also some important differences between these programs. The best foreign exchange student programs have some hallmarks that set them apart.

Whether you’re looking to host a foreign exchange student or become one yourself, it’s important to connect with a quality program. Prospective exchange students and hosts alike wonder why the specific program they partner with is so important. After all, they all provide the same essential services, right?

Many are surprised to discover that this isn’t true! Exchange programs are able to offer different benefits to their participants based on factors like their local presence, their experience, and the certifications they have attained. In fact, details like these can make or break a foreign exchange student’s program year.

For host families, the quality of your exchange program can mean a huge reduction in stress as you’re supported by an amazing team and community. For students, it can mean a deeper learning experience, guided by tenured experts.

If you’re looking to host or become an exchange student, be sure to partner with only the best exchange student programs. In this article, we’ll break down these ten telltale signs of quality that set top student exchange programs apart:

  1. Cultural exchange
  2. Ongoing support
  3. Experience
  4. Department of State designation
  5. CSIET certification
  6. Local support
  7. Nonprofit status
  8. Attention to detail
  9. High standards
  10. Transparency and clarity

1. Quality Exchange Programs Emphasize Cultural Exchange

What do you think of when imagining the goal of a study abroad program? You might think of it as a learning opportunity, a chance for a student to explore their independence, or a way for high achieving students to enrich their studies. All of these are goals of many exchange students, but at their core, foreign exchange programs are opportunities for cultural exchange. They enable students, youth ambassadors, and budding leaders from countries across the world to share their culture with their host communities.

That’s why the best student exchange programs for host families and students alike emphasize and enable cultural exchange. Prioritizing this aspect of student exchange shows a program’s commitment to the cultural learning opportunities they create.

Exploring a new culture with an exchange student isn’t just a good learning opportunity, though. For both students and host families, cultural exchange has many benefits, including:

  • Helping to forge cross cultural connections
  • Fostering empathy and understanding
  • Increasing tolerance
  • Promoting equity and inclusion
  • Achieving a broadened worldview

At Ayusa, we believe in the immense learning power of cultural exchange. Connecting our next generation of international leaders is a key step in continuing to build bridges across our cultures. In an increasingly globalized world, each rising generation has an even bigger role to play in keeping us connected than the last.

Study abroad placements are an amazing way for international students to refine their leadership skills, learn about new cultures, and explore the world. That’s why cultural exchange is one of our foremost priorities and considerations in ensuring that every exchange student placement is a success.

The importance of cultural exchange is also why our team at Ayusa is dedicated to supporting students who are recipients of the YES grant. The Youth Exchange and Study, or YES program, awards scholarships to students from more than 40 countries with large Muslim populations.

This gives them the opportunity to spend up to a year studying abroad in the United States. The benefits this grant program can have for individual students are clear, but it can also have a huge impact on the communities they join in the U.S.. Students who receive a YES grant have the opportunity to help eliminate cultural barriers and foster an international sense of understanding that spans the globe.

In a sense, students who participate in the YES program become youth ambassadors from their home countries. They make a lasting impact on the world by showing others that we are united by far more than the differences that could divide us. YES grant recipients are constantly demonstrating the power behind cultural exchange, and why it’s such a key element of the best foreign exchange student programs.

2. The Best Foreign Exchange Student Organizations Provide Ongoing Support

For both host families and exchange students, beginning their program year together can feel like a leap of faith. As you get to know each other and acclimate to your new routines, many questions are bound to arise. That’s why another hallmark of the best student exchange programs is a commitment to supporting hosts and students alike.

When researching potential exchange programs, look for the ways that they provide ongoing support to their participants. For example, try to find out if the program handles questions through a general support line, or if they create a true network of support for each participant.

We all know that life throws us unexpected turns at times, and these surprises don’t stop when hosting an exchange student. A host family may need their student’s health insurance information if they catch a cold, or need to contact their local representative on short notice to answer school registration questions. That’s why the best foreign exchange student organizations will have support available for both students and host families 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

At Ayusa, we want every exchange experience to be a resounding and meaningful success. We aim to ensure that our host families and students can always get the support they need. One of the most important ways we achieve this is through our local area coordinators.

Host families and exchange students will all meet with their local area coordinator at the beginning of their program, and continue to check in together on a monthly basis. These coordinators are tenured experts in the cultural exchange sphere, and they’re dedicated to helping each program progress smoothly.

During an exchange program, the local area coordinator becomes a key piece of hosts’ and students’ support networks. They can help answer questions, provide guidance, and even connect you with other exchange students and hosts in the area. Our entire team at Ayusa is always available to help our hosts and students, and our amazing local area coordinators lead this effort.

3. Top Student Exchange Programs Have Years of Experience

Experience creates expertise, and coordinating student exchange students is no exception to this rule. The best foreign exchange student programs for high schoolers are overseen by groups with extensive experience in guiding host families and international students through their program year.

Years of experience behind them demonstrates that an organization has a track record of ongoing success. Achieving this as an exchange program sponsor is a twofold victory: it shows that they both successfully place students and continuously support host families.

Our team at Ayusa is made up of tenured experts with experience in both inbound and outbound cultural exchange programs. We leverage our expertise to help students find the right placements, help hosts find the right students, and ensure that every day of an exchange program is more exciting and enriching than the last. Learn more about us to find out how our history with exchange programs makes us one of the best foreign exchange student programs.

4. The Best Exchange Programs Are Designated by the Department of State

Exchange students come to the United States as cultural ambassadors. Their programs are part of the purview of the Department of State. As such, quality organizations that oversee these programs work closely with the Department of State to ensure that their students and host families can have a smooth exchange experience.

The best foreign exchange student programs are operated by organizations that receive a Department of State designation that affirms their status as an exchange sponsor. This designation signifies that the organization can serve as a visa sponsor for exchange students, which is an important part of the legal requirements for their program year.

To become a visa sponsor, programs must adhere to a series of requirements set by the U.S. Department of State. As a proud Department of State designated visa sponsor for over four decades, our team at Ayusa is dedicated to creating enriching, life-changing exchange experiences for students and host families alike.

5. The Best Exchange Programs Are CSIET Certified

The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, or CSIET, certifies the best foreign exchange student programs. They issue three levels of certification to programs based on how closely these programs follow the CSIET quality standards. These levels are:

  • Condition Certification: Granted to programs that need to improve in one or more areas to achieve a higher level of certification
  • Provisional Certification: Granted to programs that demonstrate compliance to the CSIET standards in their application information alone
  • Full Certification: Granted to programs that have demonstrated practical compliance to all of the CSIET standards

Programs that can maintain full CSIET certification demonstrate a commitment to quality, educational excellence, and thorough support for their participants. To earn full certification from CSIET, an exchange program must meet multiple rigorous standards for their:

  1. Student selection criteria
  2. Student placement process
  3. Adherence to government regulations
  4. Educational perspective

These standards outline criteria that the best foreign exchange programs meet and exceed. Our focus on continuously supporting our students and host families has helped Ayusa continuously achieve the highest level of full CSIET certification.

6. Local Support Is a Sign of a Strong Exchange Program

Exchange students join new schools and meet new peers. At the same time, host families join a new community and have the chance to share their exciting hosting journeys together. These social, interconnected aspects can define an exchange program. They’re also part of why local support is a definitional part of the best student exchange programs for high schoolers.

When researching an exchange program, try to find out what kinds of hands-on support they provide. Is the entire program managed from one distant office, or can you actually meet with representatives from the company? Do they have a strong nearby community, or even regional support teams? Do they have an understanding of what your local community is like?

Whether it’s in the first week or the final month, every student and host family needs some support during their program year together. That’s why localized, readily available support is one of the important elements that hint at an exchange program’s quality.

Our Ayusa students and host families are always connected with their local coordinators. These representatives are simultaneously hosting pros and experts on your local community. We believe localized support is an essential part of making every exchange experience a meaningful success.

Foreign exchange student wearing a backpack holds phone up to snap a photo.

7. Nonprofit Exchange Programs Are Focused on Students and Hosts

Some foreign exchange student programs may have different organizational structures. One important indicator to consider when researching the best exchange student programs is their nonprofit status.

Nonprofit exchange programs tend to prioritize:

  • Student achievement
  • Program quality
  • Richness of the opportunities they provide

They also consistently value their volunteer host families and strive to provide them with ample support. As a whole, nonprofit organizations generally value creating the best exchange experience possible for hosts and students alike. On the other hand, a for-profit program may be more likely to focus on running their exchange programs like businesses. This can incentivize them to cut corners, minimize the support they provide, and value their fees over their program’s excellence.

When finding the right foreign exchange student program for you, think about your values and the reasons why you want to become a part of one of these programs. Partnering with a reputable nonprofit exchange is a way to ensure your program’s priorities are aligned with yours.

Since our founding in 1981, Ayusa has maintained our nonprofit status with pride. As a nonprofit, our students and host families are always our top priorities—not the bottom line.

8. High Quality Student Exchange Programs Handle All the Details

There are many behind-the-scenes details that go into organizing an exchange student’s year abroad. The best foreign exchange student programs strive to make the process stress-free for students, their natural families, and their host families alike.

A high quality exchange program should take an active role in helping an exchange student secure their:

  • Visa
  • Health insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Flights

Look for an exchange program that handles all the details for you. That way, you can focus on getting the most out of the incredible experience of participating in a cultural exchange program. Our team at Ayusa takes a hands-on approach to the entire scope of an exchange program, from the initial steps of placing students with host families until they fly back home a year later. Partnering with Ayusa for your exchange experience means a stress-free program year.

9. The Best Student Exchange Programs Have High Standards

High quality exchange programs are very selective. After all, exchange students are like ambassadors for the youth of their home country. They take on the huge responsibility of engaging in cultural exchange and forming international bridges. That’s why the best student exchange programs hold them to high standards.

The students who are eligible to participate in Ayusa’s exchange programs are truly exceptional. The requirements for our students include:

  • High levels of proficiency with the English language
  • Demonstrated maturity
  • Well-roundedness
  • Strength of character
  • Leadership skills

We take our cultural exchange programs seriously. That’s why we hold our students to the highest standards. This allows us to ensure that every placement we make will be an opportunity for a dedicated, driven young person to develop their leadership skills and independence through this exciting new opportunity.

10. Clarity and Transparency Can Show an Exchange Program’s Quality

Becoming part of an exchange program is an exciting decision, but it also represents an important commitment. So, what are the best foreign exchange student programs doing to ensure their participants are comfortable and ready to take on this new chapter? One of the most important things they can do is to remain open, transparent, and clear in all of their communication.

Ensure that your exchange program is honest and up front about things like their:

  • Requirements for students and hosts
  • Methods of providing ongoing support
  • Involvement in helping you navigate any hurdles that may appear

The best foreign exchange student programs will be ready to answer all of these questions and more, because they have guided thousands of students and host families through this process already. Look for a program that is always honest, transparent, and communicative with you.

For an Amazing Experience, Partner With the Best Foreign Exchange Student Programs

Whether you’re a prospective host or exchange student, it’s essential to partner with a high quality exchange program.

The best program is one that can meet a few key criteria, like Department of State designation, strong local support, and years of experience. Our team at Ayusa can provide all these benefits and more to make your exchange experience as smooth as possible.

We have decades of experience guiding hosts and students through their exchange experiences. We’d love to share our expertise with you to make your exchange journey a meaningful, impactful learning experience.

Want to find out more about what makes Ayusa one of the best foreign exchange student programs? Check out some stories from our host families and students to hear how participating in a quality exchange program changed their lives.

Request more information from our team any time to find out what sets Ayusa’s exchange programs apart. We’re always ready to receive your hosting application or connect with new students. We can’t wait to see where one of the best foreign exchange student programs will take you!

Sharing cultures and building communities with high school exchange.

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