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What Is an Exchange Student? A Leader, A Learner, and Much More

Exchange student in yellow shirt holds folders and smiles while walking down steps. Church tower looms in background.

International visitors participating in study abroad programs make up a huge percentage of students in the US, but what is an exchange student? In this article, we’ll share some information about these students, and how to get involved with the programs that bring them here to study.

The United States has a population of over 300 million people. That makes the US the third largest country in the world by population. However, there is at least one area in which the U.S. has the largest population of all: international students. Around 5% of all the students in the United States are international students, cementing America’s position as the destination of choice for most people seeking to study abroad.

From parents to teachers to community members eager to volunteer their time, many people ask: what is an exchange student, and how do their programs work? We’ll start by answering question number 1: what is an exchange student?

An exchange student is a young person who comes from another country to live and learn in the United States. While many of these students are college aged, a large portion of them are foreign exchange high school students. Especially for these younger exchange students, the opportunity to study abroad for a year can be life changing.

The experiences they gain during their program year irreplaceably shape the people they are growing into. During their time abroad, exchange students have the opportunity to:

  • Make connections that span cultures

  • Develop into leaders of the next generation

  • Form meaningful relationships that last a lifetime

Exchange students come from many different backgrounds, but they share some key traits, like their drive and leadership skills. In this article, we’ll break down who Ayusa’s exchange students are, and what it means to be one of the host families that makes these programs possible.

 

How Do Student Exchange Programs Work?

There are many different kinds of study abroad programs that bring exchange students to the United States. For older students, these may be similar to internships, or may involve enrolling in classes at a college or university. They can vary significantly in duration, too. Some may take an entire year, while others only last for the summer.

For younger students, these programs enable them to continue their secondary education without a hitch. That’s why high school exchange student programs usually line up with the academic year, lasting either the full year or one semester.

No matter the length of the program, exchange students travel to the United States on visas. Since exchange students come to experience the culture of the United States while sharing their own culture in turn, they are considered cultural exchange visitors. That’s why they typically receive J-category visas, which are specifically intended for participants in cultural exchange programs.

To receive these visas, exchange students partner with a sponsor that guides them through the process. Ayusa is backed by the U.S. Department of State as a recognized visa sponsor, enabling us to help thousands of students reach their educational goals through a study abroad year. However, our team at Ayusa aren’t the only ones who make exchange programs possible.

During their program year, high school exchange students live with a host family. These host families volunteer to welcome and care for a foreign exchange student, meaning they become like the student’s second family during their program year.

Hosts take on many different responsibilities, like:

  • Ensuring their exchange student gets to and from school

  • Providing a living space and food for their exchange student

  • Supporting their exchange student during their time abroad

So, what’s an exchange student host’s role? Hosts make cultural exchange programs possible by welcoming exchange students into their lives for their time abroad. At Ayusa, we work closely with our students and host families to organize and coordinate their program year abroad. That way, we can help ensure that each exchange program will be an amazing experience for hosts and students alike. 

 

Students Enable a Global Exchange of Cultures

One of the things that makes student exchange programs so meaningful is the cultural experiences they entail. In fact, since exchange students travel to the United States on cultural exchange visas, sharing and learning about cultures is one of the key components of the programs they participate in.

Many potential participants and host families wonder: what is an exchange student’s role in cultural exchange? Since exchange students come from a diverse range of countries around the world, they are able to share their unique cultures with their host families. In turn, host families immerse their exchange students in the unique blend of cultures found in America. This kind of mutual cultural exchange has many benefits, including:

  1. Fostering empathy and tolerance

  2. Heightening cultural awareness

  3. Forming relationships that span cultures

In fact, the numerous benefits of experiencing an exchange of cultures is one of the main reasons why students and families alike participate in exchange programs. Becoming a part of these programs allows them to play a fundamental role in building bridges that connect our globalized world.

Cultural exchange programs have long been viewed as one of the first steps towards fostering international collaboration between diverse people. As our world is constantly growing more globalized, these kinds of connections are essential. They help us collectively move forward together.

As a result, exchange students are at the forefront of forging these cultural connections. This is part of what makes exchange programs such powerful learning opportunities. It is also why exchange programs help international students grow into the leaders that will guide our interconnected world in the future. So, what’s a foreign exchange student? These students are leaders, cultural ambassadors, and more.
 

Why Become a Foreign Exchange Student?

What are foreign exchange students’ reasons for participating in a study abroad program? Their reasons are as diverse as exchange students themselves. For example, a student may join a study abroad program to:

  1. Gain a competitive edge for future college and career moves

  2. Experience new cultures

  3. Connect with people around the world

  4. Gain worldly experience 

Exchange programs give students invaluable leadership experience by empowering them to explore the wider world. They also help to shape students’ worldview by exposing them to diverse cultures and new experiences.

Research has discovered that students who participate in exchange programs gain an immense amount of knowledge, giving them an academic boost. Additionally, because exchange programs are so immersive, they’re also an effective way for exchange students to practice and master a new language.

Another factor that can define a foreign exchange student’s experience is the opportunity to explore the world independently. Especially for high school exchange students, their study abroad year is often their first experience apart from their families for an extended time. This can help students explore their identity and cement their independence. As a result, exchange programs don’t just help students learn about the world, but about themselves as well.

In addition, exchange students are able to develop close bonds with their host family, the new friends they make, and the communities they join during their time abroad. This opportunity to add new connections to their support network can be another encouraging reason for many young people to study abroad. It’s also part of what makes the experience of hosting an exchange student so rewarding.

Hand holding a red pen, poised over an open journal.

 

Meet Ayusa’s Exchange Students

There are many reasons why any student would benefit from participating in an exchange program. So, now that we’ve answered the question of “What is an exchange student?”, we’ll introduce who these students are.

At Ayusa, we hold the participants in our exchange programs to high standards, ensuring that each of our students will be incredible representatives of their study abroad program. Our requirements include:

  • Language proficiency

  • Strength of character

  • Health requirements

Our students are budding leaders who are eager to make connections that span the world. They leverage their high academic achievement, integrity, maturity, and open-mindedness to make the most of their exchange experiences.

While time abroad is a great way for students to perfect their skills with the English language, we also require them to demonstrate a strong proficiency with English before their program year begins. That way, we can ensure every exchange placement will be as impactful as possible for both students and their host families.

As high-achieving young people who demonstrate consistent strength of character, exchange students are able to make a lasting impact on the communities they join. That’s also part of what enables them to enrich their host families’ lives in such meaningful ways.

Our students come from more than 40 countries. They have diverse life experiences, heritages, educational backgrounds, and goals for the future. Some are passionate about photography, while others enjoy volunteering at animal shelters. Some may be learning English as a second language, while for others English may be the third or fourth language they master.

Although there are countless factors that make our exchange students unique, they are united by a drive to explore the world and to build a more interconnected future. We believe that our exchange students are truly the leaders of tomorrow. So, what is a foreign exchange student? A leader, a learner, and much more.

 

What Is An Exchange Student Host?

Student exchange programs are powerful learning experiences. They can have lifelong impacts on exchange students, help to foster international understanding, and define a significant chapter in a young person’s life. These programs are made possible by the incredible individuals that choose to host foreign exchange students.

But, what is an exchange student program host? Hosts are the people who exchange students live with during their year abroad. This group is as diverse as the exchange students that become integral parts of their lives. There isn’t one description that can capture the variety of people who dedicate their time to hosting exchange students.

Some hosts are families with kids of similar ages to their exchange students. Others are empty nesters or single people. Anyone who is looking to make a positive difference in the life of a young person can become an exchange student host.

Regardless of these details, many people choose to host exchange students because they deeply enjoy the rewarding roles it allows them to fill. The role of an exchange student host includes many different aspects, like:

  1. Housing and providing meals for their exchange student

  2. Ensuring their exchange student keeps up with their studies

  3. Providing their exchange student with transportation to and from school

  4. Welcoming their student as a new family member

  5. Sharing their culture with their exchange student

  6. Having new experiences with their student

The most important responsibility that hosts take on is becoming their exchange student’s second family during their time abroad. High school exchange students are often venturing into the broader world and experiencing life away from their natural family for the first time. As young adults, they need a strong support network to guide them through this time of self-discovery and growth.

This becomes the most essential role of the people who host exchange students. They guide their students through the experiences they have during their time abroad. As a result, hosts don’t just enable exchange programs. They also help exchange students get the most out of their program year.

 

Why Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student Can Change Your World

People host exchange students for many different reasons. Many even choose to host multiple exchange students. Hosting may seem like a big responsibility, so what encourages many hosts to welcome a new exchange student into their lives every year?

Our hosts have discovered that connecting with exchange students is a deeply rewarding experience for many different reasons. Firstly, it enables them to become a part of a cultural exchange opportunity.

Exchange students bring their unique blends of cultures and experiences directly to their host families. They may choose to share their holidays, traditions, and customs with the communities they join. By welcoming an exchange student into their lives for their program year, hosts are able to gain an immersive cultural learning experience.

This can also be an opportunity to learn about more than only the student’s culture. Many exchange students come to the United States with the goal of perfecting their English skills. In turn, they can share some of their home language with their host family. This creates a powerful two-way exchange of learning as a host and exchange student mutually challenge one another.

Additionally, welcoming an exchange student allows hosts to make a positive impact on the world around them. By guiding a budding leader through this transformative experience, hosts are able to leave their mark on the future of our interconnected world.

The potential to learn and grow alongside an exchange student is a great motivating factor for many hosts. Many also love the satisfaction that comes from knowing they have made a positive impact on the world. However, these aren’t the main reasons that keep so many hosts involved with exchange programs year after year.

Instead, the most important factor is the close bond that hosts form with their exchange students. Hosts become their exchange student’s second family and home away from home. In turn, their exchange student becomes like a bonus family member.

Many hosts cherish the close relationships they form with their exchange students during their time together. We’ve even heard stories from our hosts and program participants who have traveled to visit one another after their program year ends. Others stay in touch with social media for years to come.

Becoming a host for a foreign exchange student program creates an irreplaceable opportunity to form a new lifelong connection. We’ve already said that exchange students are leaders and learners, but to their hosts, they are family, too.

 

Ready To Start Hosting Foreign Exchange Students?

Exchange programs are unparalleled experiences for students and host families alike. By now, you might be wondering how to host an exchange student during their program year abroad. If you want to become a part of making foreign exchange programs possible, our team at Ayusa is always ready to help.

As your partner in navigating the details of exchange programs, we’ll help you find the right student to host. We try to keep the process of matching hosts and students as simple as possible by handling most of the “behind the scenes” work.

After we receive and approve your hosting application, you can start searching for a student to connect with. You’ll be able to explore our database of hundreds of students to find the student who will complete your household for the next year.

Once you and a student have agreed on their placement, we’ll help them secure their visa for their time abroad. We’ll also help coordinate details like their health insurance and travel itinerary. In the meantime, our local coordinators in your area will help you get ready for their arrival. For example, we’ll help you ensure you can get them enrolled in your local school district, and make sure you have their natural family’s contact information readily available.

When your student arrives, these local coordinators will continue to provide you with ongoing support. We strive to ensure that every placement is a resounding success, so we’ll be by your side for your student’s entire program year. Whether it’s a question about their healthcare options or tips to make your student feel at home, our team is committed to becoming your support network during every exchange experience.

You can reach out to our team any time to request more information and talk through your questions about hosting. If you’re ready to take the first steps to begin hosting foreign exchange students, you can start your hosting application today. We can’t wait to see the mark you and your exchange students will leave on the world.