International student exchange–it's something every student has experienced in one way or another–whether traveling to Japan or Germany through a study abroad program or meeting a foreign exchange student visiting their school. High school exchange programs exist to educate, enlighten, and build goodwill among the people of diverse nations.
Student exchange programs have been part of United States international diplomacy since the 1960s. These programs allow high school and college students to study abroad, discover the world, and become global citizens and future leaders!
As a founding member of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), Ayusa has provided a quality exchange program for high school students seeking to cultivate leadership skills, develop intercultural awareness, and enhance their global knowledge.
So while you may have interacted with foreign exchange students throughout your lifetime, you may be unfamiliar with the details of how international exchange programs work to connect families around the world. In this article, we'll discuss how the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) works and how the world benefits.
You may even find yourself wanting to get involved along the way! (We'll provide guidance for that too!)
Background on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is administered by the U.S. government to oversee international students and exchange visitors in the United States. The program, created in 1996, is part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The primary purpose of the SEVP is to provide a way for international students and exchange visitors to come to the United States to study or participate in cultural exchange programs. The SEVP also ensures that these individuals are monitored and tracked for the duration of their stay. The program accomplishes this through rules and regulations for students and the schools that sponsor them.
Officially, the SEVP has three main goals:
- To promote international understanding through educational opportunities for foreign nationals who wish to study in the U.S., pursue research or conduct academic teaching activities at American institutions, or participate in exchange programs involving American students traveling abroad;
- To maintain a high standard of quality within U.S.-based higher education institutions by promoting integrity in their recruitment practices; and
- To protect the health and safety of those participating in these programs while they are in the U.S., as well as protect our national security interests.
Like many exchange student programs, the U.S. student and exchange visitor program grants visas that temporarily allow nonimmigrant individuals to study or travel to the United States. It also provides an excellent opportunity for U.S. colleges and universities to sponsor students from other countries willing to come to the U.S. for an English-language study program or work-study experience in an American host institution.
Learning a new language and visiting a new country are two experiences that everyone should have. Unfortunately, this isn't often the reality. Luckily, international student exchange organizations and institutions exist to bridge the gap between cultures worldwide.
To answer the question of who benefits from the SEVP, the short answer is everyone!
The biggest beneficiary of the exchange program is, of course, the international student or exchange visitor. The SEVP enables nonimmigrant individuals to visit the United States for a period to learn, research, counsel, or conduct business. Visitors must fall into 15 specific categories. In the case of education, students must fall under one of the following:
- High school students studying at an accredited school and living with an American host family or at a boarding school.
- College and university students enrolled in a degree program in the United States, study at an American institution, or participate in an internship facilitated by an academic institution.
- College or university students or recent graduates seeking to participate in a U.S. internship.
- Professors and research scholars promote the exchange of ideas and research between institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
- Short-term scholars travel for a short time across the U.S. to lecture, observe, train, consult, or demonstrate special skills at research and academic institutions, museums, or libraries.
- Experts in their field exchanging ideas with American counterparts.
Other vocations that fall under this visa program range from au pairs and camp counselors to government visitors and foreign leaders.
At Ayusa, we focus strictly on supporting high school students to discover the remarkable wonders of learning and living in the United States!
One of the key benefits of the SEVP is that it allows international students to come to the United States to gain access to high-quality education and cultural experiences that they may not be able to find in their home countries. This, in turn, can lead to many benefits for both the individuals who participate in the program and society as a whole.
For the individuals who participate in the program, the SEVP can provide opportunities for personal and professional growth and the chance to develop a global perspective and build relationships with people from different cultures. Many international students become successful professionals in various fields, bringing their knowledge and skills back to their home countries or staying in the United States to contribute to the economy.
One of our YES Alumni, Kulthoom Al Khamayasi, is a perfect example of the impact international students studying abroad can have on their home countries. The YES grant program awards scholarships to high school students from over 40 countries with significant Muslim populations to break down cultural barriers, misperceptions, and stereotypes between Muslim countries and the United States.
Kulthoom, along with colleague and YES alumnus Hassan Al-Busaidi, created an initiative to serve youth by targeting one of the biggest problems graduates face in their home country of Oman: unemployment. Youth unemployment is a common problem many fresh graduates face in the country, and they are seeking a way to bridge the hiring gap between students and employers. As a result, they created a platform for young students to connect with potential employers. Now, the program connects over 5,000 students to internships at engaged companies each year!
Kulthoom says they took knowledge and training they acquired in YES workshops to gain support from the Oman American Business Council and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
What a success story!
An international student host family can also benefit from student exchange programs in many ways. Hosting an international student can provide an opportunity to learn about different cultures and gain a global perspective. Additionally, hosting a student can be a rewarding experience, as it allows families to share their culture and way of life with someone from another part of the world. Furthermore, hosting a student can also provide a chance for personal growth and development, as it requires families to be open-minded and welcoming. Overall, hosting a student can be a rewarding and enriching family experience.
Host parent Laura Savage of Colorado recently shared her rewarding experience with an Ayusa international student:
"Hosting enhances the lenses in which we experience the world. Not only do we provide space for a student to widen their global view, the opportunity gifts host families with a unique, front row seat to diversity and inclusion."
Interacting with a foreign exchange student can also benefit American students. For one, it can provide an opportunity for personal and cultural growth, allowing American students to learn about different cultures and ways of life.
Interacting with a foreign exchange student can also improve communication skills and develop a more global perspective. This can be particularly valuable in today's interconnected world, where understanding different cultures and communicating effectively with people from other countries can be essential skills.
The SEVP has significant benefits for society, such as increased cultural understanding and diversity, economic growth through international investment and trade, and sharing of knowledge and expertise. Additionally, the program can foster greater international cooperation and collaboration, which can positively impact on a global scale.
How International Student Exchanges Work
By now, you're curious about how all of this works! Who is responsible for finding students and placing them with families? How do the students connect to their local high school and community organizations?
As a non-profit high school exchange organization for more than 40 years, Ayusa has been connecting families worldwide through student exchange. We cultivate leadership skills, develop intercultural awareness and enhance global knowledge through education and experience.
High school student exchange programs utilize the J-1 Visa program, administered by the United States government. An J-1 visa must be acquired before the student enters the country to complete their semester or year abroad.
At Ayusa, we connect with students who demonstrate enthusiasm and dedication to learning. Our students must go through an application process, complete an English language proficiency test, and have all their required immunizations to qualify for our program. Once a student has been accepted into the program, we connect the student with a loving, open-minded host family.
Who can host? No two AYUSA families are the same! From empty nesters ready to welcome a new family member into their home to single young professionals looking to shape and encourage young minds, AYUSA families are united in their desire to learn, teach, love, and grow as hosts.
Each host must be 25 years or older and will be required to provide visiting students with the following:
- A safe home
- Three meals a day
- Reliable transportation
- Time and enthusiasm
In addition to connecting students and families, we also leverage local community representatives to provide guidance and support throughout the process. Our community representatives assist in working with your local high school to enroll the student, integrate the student into the local community, and act as a resource for host parents navigating the unique experience of taking care of an international student.
Once in the United States, the student can attend classes and participate in extracurricular activities at their high school. However, there are some limitations on the activities that high school exchange students on J-1 visas can engage in, such as working off-campus. Additionally, J-1 visa holders who are high school exchange students must maintain a full course of study and make normal progress toward completing their high school education.
Get Involved in Exchange Programs for International Students
All of this talk of nurturing the future generation of global leaders will get anyone excited about participating in an exchange program! Luckily, there are plenty of different ways to get involved, including:
Without hosts, community representatives, and local high schools, the international learning experience wouldn't be the same! Keep reading to find out how to get involved.
Become an International Student Exchange Host
Hosting an international student can be a rewarding experience. You'll gain another person to love, widen your family's worldview, and make a student feel at home in a foreign place.
But don't take it from us; let's look at what some of our hosts say about their hosting experiences:
Host parent Juli Anna Vonderharr says,
"One day my oldest son came home from school (he's a senior) and asked if his foreign exchange student friend could come live with us as his host family wasn't working out at that time due to medical issues. I hesitated as I have 5 kiddos of my own, and my husband is deployed. But having our +1 teen has been an amazing adventure. We love having 6 kiddos! Life is never boring, and it is full of love and laughter."
Then there's Michael Murphy Jr. and his family's experience: "Our family has always enjoyed learning about new cultures. It has been fun watching our students make new friends and get involved in American High School activities. The biggest thing is just understanding your students' personalities and expectations. It is a process to mesh different personalities and expectations within the host family."
To host an exchange student, you’ll first want to contact an exchange program organization that sponsors international students (hint: AYUSA!).
To become an Ayusa host, you only need curiosity, an openness to adventure, and lots of love to spare. Your family can request more information or start a hosting application to get started. Then, we'll connect you with an Ayusa team member in your area to answer any questions and determine if hosting is right for you.
Become a Community Representative
Hosting isn't the only way to get involved at Ayusa. Becoming a community representative means you're essential in advocating for international students during their stay in the United States. As a paid employee of Ayusa, you'll get paid to enrich the lives of students and families every day!
This part-time position involves networking, community outreach, representing the Ayusa brand, working with schools, recruiting families, and matching students with suitable families. Those who have the following characteristics are most qualified for the role:
- Sales, networking, or community outreach experience
- Knowledge of local school systems
- Strong communication skills
- Ability to work independently and complete tasks with deadlines
The role of community representatives is an important one. You'll be expected to connect students with their local school, sports teams, and community involvement opportunities. You'll also provide ongoing support by maintaining regular contact with host families throughout the year.
Become a Host High School
American high schools play an important role in welcoming international students to the United States. High schools provide a supportive and inclusive environment for international students to learn and grow academically and personally. They also help to integrate international students into the local community, providing opportunities for them to make friends, participate in extracurricular activities, and learn about American culture.
High schools can also provide support and guidance to international students and their families, helping them navigate their new environment and overcome any challenges they may face. Overall, American high schools play a crucial role in helping international students feel welcome and supported during their time in the United States.
Any high school wanting to engage in an exchange program can take the following steps:
- Join the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) Online School Community to receive up-to-date information on visa regulations, government grants and scholarships, and international education efforts.
- Write a foreign youth exchange policy. This should outline 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.
- 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.
- Connect with Ayusa to get started!
Find the Best Study Abroad Exchange Program
Finding the best study abroad exchange program in the USA can take time and effort, as there are many different programs to choose from. However, there are a few key factors to consider that can help you find the right program:
- Official designation as a United States visa sponsor
- CSIET certification
- Localized support
- High standards for selecting students and families
Ayusa has decades of experience guiding hosts and students through their exchange experiences and we look forward to helping you navigate your first foreign exchange experience! If you want to learn more about what makes Ayusa one of the best foreign exchange student programs, check out these stories from our host families and students.
To become a part of the Ayusa international family, request more information from our team to discover what sets Ayusa's exchange programs apart. We're always ready to receive your hosting application to connect with new students.
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