October 19, 2022
Activities and Tips

Everything High Schools Need to Know About Exchange Programs [USA]

Students walking down a high school hallway

In 1961, the United States Congress passed the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act—also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act—as a way to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by way of education and cultural exchange. The intended outcome was strengthening international relationships, promoting international cooperation, and developing more friendly, peaceful relationships with other countries worldwide. As a result, high school exchange programs began popping up all over the USA!

To this day, international education and engagement remain a top priority in the Department of Education’s International Strategy. In fact, 5% of students in the U.S. are now international students.

At Ayusa,  we believe that every enriching high school exchange experience starts with a dedicated local school prepared to provide visiting students with an immersive educational and cultural experience. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of high schools in educating foreign exchange students! After all, students spend about 15% of their time at school, meaning that these institutions play a significant role in the overall exchange experience. A school’s success in its communication with parents and students, willingness to make accommodations for the right exchange student, and approach to extracurricular activities all make a lasting impression on the student.

Since our establishment, Ayusa has provided cross-cultural experiences for more than 50,000 participants! We’re also a founding member of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), an organization focused on evaluating and certifying long-term international exchange programs. As such, we are always looking for new schools to partner with! Together, we can give students an international experience that gives them a leading edge in today’s global community.

This article will discuss everything a potential host school needs to know about foreign exchange student programs, such as:

  1. The basics of high school exchange
  2. The benefits of U.S. exchange programs
  3. The steps to becoming a host school
  4. The top reasons to partner with us at Ayusa

With the right support, your school could help a foreign exchange student take flight toward a successful future!

What is High School Exchange?

So, what exactly is an exchange student program? An exchange student program is a program in which students from another country (exchange students) come to your high school to gain world experience.

During their stay, participants live with American families who want to host an exchange student and share the desire to learn, teach, love, and grow together. They provide students with a safe place to live, sleep, study, and explore family life in the United States. These families work closely with their exchange organization and local school to ensure the students can experience a year of the authentic American high school experience.

As a high school, one of the most influential things you can do for your local students is to welcome exchange students into your halls. Over the course of an academic year where exchange students are in the classrooms, American high school students can learn about different cultures and customs from visitors. They can also examine their own culture, values, and beliefs from someone else’s perspective. These are just a few of the many benefits of exchange programs for high school students.

The Benefits of U.S. Exchange Programs for High School Students

The U.S. State Department estimates that more than 1 million Americans participated in cultural and educational exchanges during the 2019-2020 school year. That’s because more and more families recognize that the best foreign exchange student programs help high school students experience new cultures, meet new people, and learn about other countries. But many schools don't realize that these programs can also benefit local students.

Foreign exchange programs:

  1. Improve student performance
  2. Foster global citizens
  3. Increase employability and career skills

Let’s dig a little deeper to see how your local high school and visiting students can benefit from participating in a foreign exchange program!

Exchange Programs Improve Student Performance

U.S. exchange programs for high school students can improve student performance by providing a different learning environment and encouraging students to embrace new challenges. Students who participate in these opportunities often develop new ideas and ways of thinking that they share with their classmates and families.

These programs are not just for improving students’ cultural understanding—they can also improve a student's grades and attitude.  Some studies have shown that foreign exchange programs:

  • improve GPA;
  • improve language;
  • increase graduation rate; and
  • increase the probability of post-graduate education.

Individuals who participate in an exchange program have higher GPAs compared to their counterparts who don't participate in one. A study by NAFSA showed that exchange students reported a GPA two points higher than non-exchange students enrolled at the same institution. In addition, those who participated in an exchange program were more likely to graduate than their non-exchange counterparts (76% vs. 65%). When you partner with an exchange program like Ayusa, you’re not just opening your halls to a foreign exchange student. You’re also connecting your local students with their own opportunities to travel abroad and gain the same experiences.

Learning another language can be challenging, especially if you're not used to speaking it daily at home or school. During foreign exchange programs, students immerse themselves in conversations with native speakers. Local students can benefit from sharing languages with visiting students. By practicing breaking down the English language to those who do not speak it natively, they’re exercising their understanding of the English language and all of its nuances. Their communication skills will greatly improve by working through the language barrier. They may even pick up a few phrases in a foreign language along the way.

As the world has become more connected, global thinking is more important than ever. Hosting a foreign exchange student can help local students develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. When students can gain insight into the perspectives of a fellow student that has a completely different life experience from them, they can learn how to think outside the box, work better with others, and work together to find solutions to problems. These skills are all critical for success in today’s world and will translate to academic performance in secondary school and higher education.

Fosters Global Citizens

High school students are the next generation of leaders! And as such, they need to be prepared to take on the world. One of the most significant benefits of a high school exchange year is that it fosters global citizens who are more open-minded, tolerant, and empathetic.

High school exchange programs are an excellent way for students to experience another culture and gain an international perspective. But they're not just for international students—American students can also benefit from these programs. As our world becomes more interconnected, it's essential that people from different cultures understand each other better.

Imagine a classroom discussion on global civil rights movements with a student from South Africa or exchanging soccer tips with a student from Portugal!

When students from another country attend your school, your students will have the opportunity to do daily life with peers who have different backgrounds, beliefs, and customs. This type of immersive cultural exchange has many benefits, including:

  • forging lifetime cross-cultural connections;
  • fostering empathy and understanding;
  • increasing tolerance of others;
  • promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  • broadening worldviews.

Essentially, high school exchange programs foster global citizens. Students who participate in these programs often desire to travel or work abroad after their time in the U.S., which is good news for employers who want employees with international experience.

One of our host families, the Irelands from Missouri, describes the experience perfectly:

“Our family lives in a small rural community, but we have tried to make sure our children know that there are no boundaries to opportunities that are out there for them. We think that by hosting a student we will just be adding to those opportunities to experience learning about others, but also learning how to relate to others in a positive way.”

Having friends from other countries really does help you grow as a person and see things from a new perspective (which is why international friendships are so great!).

Increases Employability and Career Skills

In addition to improving academic performance and fostering global thinking, a high school exchange program in the USA teaches students how to take charge of situations and make decisions independently, an essential life skill that can be applied anywhere.

Participating in an international exchange program can help build a student's social and academic self-confidence. This is because students are required to communicate with people from different backgrounds and engage with them on their terms while maintaining their own cultural identity.

Young people who spend time outside their comfort zone tend to be better prepared for adult life than those who remain in their comfort zones their entire lives. This is especially true when it comes to finding employment after graduation. Many employers prefer candidates who have spent time living abroad because:

  1. They’re often more fluent in foreign languages.
  2. They’re more likely to work effectively in a multicultural environment.
  3. They’re more flexible and open to change.
  4. They have increased confidence and self-awareness.

In today’s workforce, diversity, equity, and inclusion are more important than ever. When your local high school students are exposed to other cultures, they have a better understanding of the benefits of DEI and how it can impact collaboration and cooperation. This is an incredibly attractive skill to have as an employee. By hosting exchange students in your school, you’re setting them up for a bright future.

How to Become a Host School

High schools that invite international students to study, play, and grow alongside their American students give all attendees a unique opportunity to share languages, build lifelong friendships, and provide unique insights about the U.S. and the world. Can you think of a more enriching high school experience than that?

We can’t!

We’ve already reviewed the long list of benefits of hosting international exchange students.

As outlined by the ASIA Society’s Center for Global Education, schools can build a travel and exchange program in a few steps:

  1. Join the CSIET Online School Community to receive up-to-date information on visa regulations, government grants and scholarships, and international education efforts.
  2. Write a Foreign Youth Exchange Policy that outlines agreed-upon procedures that consider how many students the school will host, which exchange programs you’ll accept students from and whether students can receive school credit for studies abroad.
  3. Utilize CSIET’s school resources to develop policies, better understand how exchange programs operate, and how to provide the best experience for hosts and students.
  4. Find an exchange program through CSIET’s Get Started website.

If you want to skip #4, we have a cheat code: partner with Ayusa!

Why Ayusa?

We’re CSIET-certified!

The mission of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) is to evaluate and certify long-term international student exchange programs at the secondary level. Its purpose is to cultivate excellence, facilitate a spirit of cooperation and support, and help ensure safety and value for international exchange students, secondary schools, and natural parents. That’s why most reputable foreign exchange programs require high schools to receive their CSIET certification before becoming a host school–including us!

Accreditation is awarded to programs that exhibit:

  1. A commitment to CSIET’s Standards of Excellence
  2. Engagement in the development and sharing of Community Preferred Practices
  3. Advancement of the educational value of international student exchange

Partnering with Ayusa

Ayusa connects extraordinary international students with host families in the U.S., cultivating leadership skills, intercultural awareness, and global knowledge through education and experience. In partnership with the Department of State, we bring motivated students from more than 60 countries to exchange to an American high school for 5 to 10 months.

Our students are exceptional students who meet a specific list of criteria. They all::

  • Are in good academic standing
  • Are between ages 15 and 18
  • Have an ELTiS English proficiency score of 212 or higher;
  • Are active participants in extracurricular activities

But don’t take our word for it. Matt Threehouse of Olean High School shares his experience with one of his foreign exchange students:

“Farooq participates actively in class and works conscientiously toward his academic success. [He] frequently has a smile on his face when seen in the school and has made the easiest and most successful transition of any exchange student that I can recall in my 14 years working at Olean High School.”

What makes partnering with Ayusa different? In addition to working with exceptionally talented students, we can provide a support system that sets your school and its exchange students up for success. We have a longstanding reputation for delivering high-quality cultural exchange programs, and dedicated and culturally-experienced local staff that can be available 24/7 to answer questions and offer assistance.

As an Ayusa host high school, you’ll feel proud knowing you’re helping students:

  • gain international perspectives;
  • increase cultural awareness;
  • gain a competitive edge on college applications and career paths;
  • create lifelong international friendships;
  • become leaders in global awareness, intercultural knowledge, and favorable international relations; and
  • ignite a far-reaching light of global citizenship.

In addition to inbound exchange students, you can also give your American students the same enriching opportunities through the following programs:

Your local students can volunteer to become Student Ambassadors. These ambassadors partner with the local Ayusa Community Representative to befriend, support, and inform the exchange students in their school. In exchange for their support, they will increase personal awareness and provide an opportunity to have a global impact in local communities. They are able to make new friends around the world and boost their college applications. The skills they obtain and activities they do with Ayusa exchange students and CRs look great on college applications!

If you’d like to learn more about why Ayusa is one of the best foreign exchange student programs in the country, feel free to check out some of our stories from host families and students to hear how participating impacted their lives.

If you’re ready to help your students think bigger, build relationships, and promote goodwill at their school and beyond, your school can reach out to request more information. We’re always eager to answer questions and connect schools with one of our local coordinators.

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