February 16, 2023
Activities and Tips

10 Cultural Exchange Ideas for International Study Abroad Programs

A young woman in glasses, jeans, and a grey overcoat sits alone in a cushioned subway line or train, writing in a notebook.

International study abroad programs are an incredible opportunity for high school students to immerse themselves in a new culture, learn about different perspectives, and build meaningful connections with people from all over the world. 

Cultural exchange can be even more rewarding for the families who host an exchange student. Not only do you have the opportunity to share your home and community with someone from a different part of the world, you also have the chance to learn from and connect with someone from a completely different background. 

Spring and early summer can be some of the best times of year to immerse your foreign exchange student in American culture; just ask host mom Michelle O'Brien. who got to end Denmark exchange student Marie's time abroad enjoying a Missouri Summer: 

"The thought of long, hot, lazy summer days on the waters of Table Rock Lake is what we're most excited about - and no one is more eager than Marie. Tubing, ziplining, cheesy Branson shows, a Kansas City Royals baseball game, wakeboarding, boat rides, swimming, and just floating around soaking up some sun is the plan. For Marie, all of these experiences will be new and can't come soon enough." 

In this article, we'll look at some of the most rewarding international student exchange activities you can provide your host student to make the most of their international study abroad. From hosting a traditional American BBQ to taking a road trip to a nearby tourist destination, we'll provide you with various activities and experiences that will deepen your cultural exchange and create lasting memories for everyone involved.

Our top ten ideas for fun things to do with your foreign exchange student are: 

  1. Visiting Independence Hall
  2. Admiring Mount Rushmore
  3. Touring the Statue of Liberty
  4. Exploring National Parks 
  5. Attending an Arts and Crafts Festival
  6. Participating in a State Fair
  7. Enjoying a Baseball Game
  8. Eating from Food Trucks and Street Markets
  9. Throwing a Backyard Barbecue
  10. Enjoying Local Seafood 

But first, what makes us experts on cultural exchange? Ayusa is a nonprofit organization specializing in cultural exchange programs for high school students. We provide opportunities for international students to spend a semester or more in the United States, live with a host family, and attend high school. 

Our aim with these programs is to promote global understanding, leadership, and cross-cultural awareness, and provide a unique and enriching experience for our host families and our students. We take pride in our commitment to making cultural exchange accessible and affordable and supporting host families and international students through the program to ensure a positive, meaningful experience. 

So let's take a closer look at the benefits of high school exchange programs and our top ten favorite cultural exchange ideas! 

Benefits of International Study Abroad Programs

International study abroad programs are a part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), run by the U.S. government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The SEVP program provides information and guidance to international students, schools, and exchange programs, ensuring that students have a positive cultural exchange experience and that the program remains secure and efficient.

International study abroad programs offer a wealth of benefits for high school students. These programs are designed to provide an enriching and transformative experience. Let's take a look at the top benefits of these programs, including:

  • Experiencing culture first-hand
  • Improving language and communication skills
  • Building connections that last a lifetime 

Experience American Culture First-hand

Whether you're an international student or a host family, immersing yourself in a new culture is exciting. By living with an American family, international students can experience the daily life of an American home and participate in American cultural traditions and activities. It's a valuable opportunity to expand their understanding of the world and broaden their horizons. 

Improve Language & Communication Skills

Another key benefit to international study abroad programs is the chance to improve language and communication skills. For international students, spending time in an English-speaking environment is an excellent opportunity to practice and improve their language skills. The chance to learn and practice a new language can be just as exciting for host families. 

Connections That Last a Lifetime

The connections formed through international study abroad programs can last a lifetime. Both international students and host families will have the opportunity to build relationships with people from all over the world, learn about different cultures and perspectives, and create memories that last forever.

These connections provide a valuable network for future opportunities and foster a deeper appreciation for diversity and global understanding. 

Cultural Exchange Ideas for Host Families Participating in International Study Abroad Programs

One of the most exciting aspects of hosting an international student is the opportunity to share your culture and participate in cultural exchange activities. The best international study abroad programs offer students a chance to engage in America’s favorite activities and pastimes! 

Whether planning a day trip, a special event, or simply having dinner together, the time spent with your international student is an opportunity to deepen your connection and create lasting memories. 

From cooking a traditional American meal together to visiting local landmarks and attractions, these ideas will help you and your host family make the most of your time together. 

Visit Landmarks and Historical Sites 

Visiting landmarks and historical sites can be a fantastic cultural exchange activity for host families and their international students participating in an international study abroad program. Not only does it offer the opportunity to explore the local area and travel together, it also provides a chance to learn about American history and culture in a unique and memorable way. 

Families who want to stay close to home can visit a local museum, such as an art museum or history museum. Exploring a nearby state park or nature reserve can be a fun and educational way to spend the day outdoors in the spring and early summer weather. And visiting a local cultural event, such as a food festival or music festival, can also be a great way to experience local traditions and customs. 

If you want to plan a trip or getaway around a cultural exchange experience, here are three ideas to share some of America's most iconic landmarks with your foreign exchange student:

  1. Independence Hall
  2. Mount Rushmore
  3. Statue of Liberty 

Independence Hall in Philadelphia 

If your international student is a history buff, Independence Hall in Philadelphia might be the perfect place to visit during their study abroad. Take them back to where America found its independence, where the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776! 

When visiting Independence Hall, host families, and their international students can learn about the events that led up to the American Revolution, including the struggle for independence from Great Britain. They can also learn about the United States Constitution's creation and the American Government's formation. Stop by and admire the famous Liberty Bell that hangs near the restored Assembly Room! 

During your visit, take time to discuss the similarities and differences between your international student's home country and the United States. And don't forget to introduce them to the wonders of Philadelphia cheesecake while you're in town! 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

If your family lives in the Midwest, Mount Rushmore might be a better option for your cultural exchange road trip. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a massive sculpture featuring the faces of four of America's most revered presidents: 

  1. George Washington
  2. Thomas Jefferson
  3. Theodore Roosevelt
  4. Abraham Lincoln 

The memorial symbolizes American democracy, freedom, and unity, and visiting the site provides a unique opportunity to learn about the lives and legacies of these remarkable leaders. In addition, families and international exchange students will have a chance to discuss the role of leadership in their countries and how they compare. 

It just so happens that the South Dakota Black Hills region also offers various outdoor recreational opportunities. So while you're there, you can take your student on a hike or go sightseeing! 

Statue of Liberty 

Then you have the most iconic of all of America's great landmarks: the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty hosts millions of visitors each year. As a host family, visiting the Statue of Liberty with your international student is a great way to experience American history and culture in one of the world's most famous and recognizable landmarks. 

When visiting the Statue of Liberty, host families and their international students can learn about the statue's history – including its design and construction – and the history of the American immigrant experience. In addition, they can visit the museum, take a tour of the island, and even get a view of New York City from the crown of the statue. 

Immigration has played an important role in shaping American history and culture and still does today. That's why cultural exchange student programs are so important! Visiting a site like the Statue of Liberty can give everyone a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities American immigrants have faced throughout history. This can be deeply meaningful for the exchange student, who is also an immigrant in a sense. It's a powerful reminder of the diversity and strength of being open to foreign cultures and ideas. 

Visit National Parks 

Visiting national parks is a fantastic way to immerse cultural exchange students in the natural beauty and rich history of the United States. In addition, many national parks across the country offer a variety of activities for families to enjoy together.

Hiking and camping are popular activities in national parks that allow exchange students to experience the great outdoors and learn about the diverse ecosystems of the United States. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about the unique plants and animals native to different parts of the country.

Along with outdoor activities, many national parks also offer educational programs highlighting the rich cultural and historical significance of the areas they preserve. For example, exchange students can learn about Native American history, the Civil War, and other significant events in American history through guided tours and interactive exhibits.

Whether you're visiting iconic American landmarks or experiencing local culture in a more low-key way, the aim is to have fun and make the most of your time together. Choose an activity that appeals to you and your international student, and prepare for a memorable and enriching experience! 

Participate in Traditional American Events and Celebrations

One thing you can count on from America when the weather improves – there are plenty of engaging, outdoor cultural events! 

From the vibrant patriotic displays of fireworks celebrations to the fun-filled atmosphere of local fairs, these events provide a window into American culture, customs, and traditions. They can create lasting memories for both the host family and the exchange student. 

Let’s take a look at three of the best American traditions to participate in: 

  • Arts and crafts festivals
  • State fairs
  • Baseball games

Arts and Crafts Festivals

When the weather is nice, a quintessential American experience is local arts and crafts fairs and festivals. From small towns to major cities, vendors gather to offer a taste of local interests, talents, and communities. If you’re looking to provide your international exchange student a fun and educational experience, search your local listings for upcoming festivals and fairs. One of the best parts: most of these events are free!

Many arts and crafts festivals are community events showcasing local artists’ jewelry, artwork, and creative talents, but you can also introduce your host student to unique experiences at these festivals, such as:

  • Renaissance faires
  • Hot air balloon launches
  • Competitive eating contests
  • Holiday shows and festivals

There’s no shortage of outdoor events and festivals once the weather permits. Enjoying a day out among street food, vendors, and fun activities is a great way to immerse your host student in engaging American cultural events. You never know: you might discover some new yearly traditions for your family while you’re at it! 

State Fairs

Attending a state fair is another great opportunity for host families and exchange students to participate in a beloved American tradition. State fairs are an exciting mix of agriculture, food, entertainment, and competition, and provide a fun and lively environment for families and students to bond. 

Who doesn't love cotton candy, corn dogs, and funnel cake? State fairs are a great place for students to get introduced to the unique offerings of fair food. There are often regional offerings unique to your area. It's an excellent opportunity for exchange students to try new foods and learn about American cuisine. 

But it isn't all just fun and games at a state fair – even if that's everyone's favorite part. Another key component of state fairs is the competitions and exhibits. Whether it's livestock shows, agricultural displays, or cooking and baking contests, there's always something to see and learn. Attending various exhibits can help exchange students gain a deeper understanding of American farming and rural life, as well as appreciate the talents and skills of participants. 

Baseball Games

No visit to the United States is complete without experiencing America's favorite pastime: baseball. 

Attending a Major League Baseball game is a unique opportunity for cultural exchange and an exciting activity for host families and exchange students. Baseball is an American tradition enjoyed by millions of people across the country, making it a great way for exchange students to immerse themselves in American culture. 

YES exchange student Urooj posing for a picture with her host family at a Minnesota Twins baseball game.
YES exchange student, Urooj from Pakistan, with her American family attending a Minnesota Twins game!

During the game, exchange students can learn about the rules and traditions of the sport, sample classic American food and snacks, and experience the lively atmosphere of a live sporting event. The crowd's excitement, the sound of the crack of the bat, and the smell of freshly cut grass all create an unforgettable experience.

In addition to the game itself, attending a baseball game offers a great opportunity for host families and exchange students to spend quality time together, share common experiences, and bond over their mutual love for the sport. 

Explore American Cuisine

Exploring food is one of the most essential elements of learning about any culture. So turn your exchange student into a genuine American foodie! 

Exploring American cuisine is a delicious and fun way for host families and exchange students to experience the diverse and rich food culture of the United States. From street food markets to backyard barbecues, there are endless opportunities to try new dishes, learn about cooking traditions, and taste the flavors of America. 

Some of the quintessential American food experiences include:

  1. Food trucks and street food
  2. Barbecue cookouts

Food Trucks and Street Food

Food trucks and street food markets are a staple of many American cities. They offer a wide range of cuisines and dishes to suit any palate. These venues provide a fun and casual atmosphere for host families and exchange students to try new foods, chat with vendors, and experience the vibrant food culture of the United States. 

Barbecue Cookouts

Backyard barbecue cookouts are a beloved tradition in many parts of the United States. They offer a chance for exchange students to experience the communal and relaxed atmosphere of a family and friends backyard gathering. 

Host families can invite friends and neighbors for an afternoon of good food, conversation, and cultural exchange. Students can try classic American barbecue dishes like Southern pulled pork, juicy grilled burgers, and sweet corn on the cob. Maybe they can even contribute their own dish to share with your guests! 

Seafood by the Coast

Many exchange students who come from landlocked countries may not have ever tried seafood before. For host families who live near the coast, seafood restaurants are a must-visit destination. 

Fresh and flavorful seafood is a staple of many coastal communities and has become part of the culture. These restaurants offer a chance to try local specialties and learn about regional cooking traditions. Whether it's sampling oysters at a raw bar, savoring lobster rolls, or trying freshly caught fish, dining at a seafood restaurant is a delicious and memorable experience for everyone. 

Make the Most of Their International Study Abroad Program

Hosting an international student through Ayusa's study abroad program can be an enriching experience for families. From visiting historical landmarks to participating in traditional American events and celebrations to exploring the country's diverse cuisine and breathtaking national parks, the possibilities for cultural exchange are endless! 

Each of these experiences offers a chance for the exchange student to immerse themselves in the culture of the United States while also offering the host family the opportunity to learn about the student's culture and background. Families will also fall in love with America all over again!

Cultural exchange programs build bridges across borders and foster understanding between people from different backgrounds and countries. By hosting an international student through Ayusa, families can play an essential role in promoting peace and understanding on a global scale.

We hope this article has inspired you to consider hosting an international student this school year! Whether you live in a big city or a small town, there's no shortage of opportunities for meaningful cultural exchange. So why wait? Take the first step today by requesting more information or starting a hosting application to become a host family for an exchange student today

In the meantime, you can meet our students, explore our stories, and check out our FAQs

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