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A student exchange program is a program in which a student, typically in secondary or higher education, chooses to live in a foreign country to learn, among other things, language and culture. These programs are called 'exchanges' because originally the goal was an exchange of students between different countries. No trade off is actually required, so a student is allowed to go to another country without finding a counterpart in that country to exchange with. Students live with a host family, who are usually unpaid volunteers and can be a traditional family, a single parent, or a couple with no children at home. Host families are vetted by the organization co-ordinating the program. In the United States, the Department of State requires that each person 18 or older in a host family receive a criminal background check.

Student exchanges became popular after World War II, and have the aim of helping to increase the participants' understanding and tolerance of other cultures, as well as improving their language skills and broadening their social horizons.

An exchange student typically stays in the host country for a relatively short period of time, often 6 to 10 months, in contrast to international students or those on study abroad programs which can last for several years.

Some students on exchange programs can receive academic credit from the country they study in.

Long-term exchange

A long term exchange is considered an exchange which is designed to last six to ten months or up to one full year. Participants are to attend high school in their host countries, through a student visa. Typically, non-USA students coming to the USA are issued J-1 Cultural Exchange Visas though some programs may use the F-1 Foreign Student Visa. Students are expected to integrate themselves into the host family, living as a natural child would, immersing themselves in the local community and surroundings, and upon their return to their home country are expected to incorporate this knowledge into their daily lives, as well as give a presentation on their experience to their sponsors. This is a hallmark of the AFS and Rotary programs. Many exchange programs expect students to be able converse in the language of the new host country, at least on a basic level. Some programs require students to pass a standardized test for English language comprehension, for example, prior to being accepted into a program taking them to the United States. Others do not examine basic language communication ability. Most exchange students become fluent in the language of the host country in which they are a new student within a few months. Some exchange programs, such as the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange are government-funded programs. Most programs do not require an actual exchange of individual students between countries. Instead the majority of exchange students are those coming into the U.S., without any American leaving the U.S. The exchange consists of the foreign student and the host parents or host family sharing culture and comparing daily life and habits while building a natural friendship that will endure beyond the actual exchange year. The focus is on improving international relations and cultural understanding.

After year 2000 there have been some focus on the safety of foreign exchange student due to no regulation of the host families and legal differences between the native country of the exchange student and the country the student studies in

Application process

Long term (10 to 12 month) exchange applications and interviews generally take place 10 months in advance of departure, but sometimes as little as four months. Ages requirements are between 15 and 18.5, older or younger cannot be classified as a foreign exchange student. Some programs allow students older than 18 years of age in a specialized work-study program. DM Discoveries in particular has work abroad programs for students older than 18 years of age and out of high school.

Some programs first require a preliminary application with fees, then schedule interviews and request a longer application. Other programs request a full application from the beginning and then schedule interviews to more completely expand on the application information. High school scholarship programs often require a set GPA of around 3.0 or higher. These programs choose their students via application and personal interview, selecting the candidates most likely to complete the program and serve as the best ambassadors to the foreign nation. Students in some programs are expected to go to any location where the organization places them, such as Rotary, and students are encouraged not to have strict expectations of their host country. Such open attitudes often make for a more enjoyable exchange. Student do make a country choice, but may live at any spot within that country.

Most programs expect the prospective exchange student to demonstrate some ability to speak the language of the country they choose, however, requirements of ability to communicate vary, the organization in the home country of the student, to which the student has applied, often makes this decision. The home country organization will then have a partner organization in the country of the student’s choice. Students accepted for the program may or may not be screened by the organization in their home country. Partner organizations in the destination country each have differing levels of screening they require students to pass through before being accepted into their program. For example, students coming to the U.S. may be required by a U.S. partner organization to submit as little as the recommendation by the organization in their home country (who also collects a fee from the student) OR the U.S. partner may require student applicants to submit detailed application materials such as previous school report cards, and letters from their school teachers and administrators in addition to the original standardized English fluency exam papers. The U.S. agency may then accept or decline the applicant. Some U.S. organizations also have Rules of Participation requirements. Almost all U.S. organizations cannot allow an exchange student to drive an automobile, for example, due to liability costs that would cause program costs and thus fees to be out of reach for most students. Some organizations require written contract standards for personal behavior and grades, while others may be less rigorous. Frequently foreign parents will choose a program based on the lowest cost, which can result in a student participating in a program without a supervisor for the student living close enough to check on the student's well-being frequently. Programs provided by agencies that provide compensation for Representatives are more likely to retain local Representatives to assist and guide the student and remain closely aware of the student's well-being. Thus a program that pays its Representatives is more likely to have Representatives available locally as well as activities for the students.

Year abroad

During their year abroad, students are expected to study in school and participate fully in the foreign culture. This includes taking up hobbies and after school activities in their host country. They are often encouraged to make non-exchange student friends in their host country. Exchange students may have rules that encourage or require abstinence from substances including drugs and alcohol, dating, and driving, for insurance reasons. Also travel can be restricted for student's safety, although some programs offer tours throughout and at the end of the exchange. Students are encouraged to travel with their host families. Depending on the U.S. organization and the circumstances, when students violate a rule they may be sent home .

Short-term exchange

A short term exchange usually takes place during the summer months of July-August. Students do not attend school and are instead given a brief introduction to the language of their host country with heavy emphasis on sightseeing and cultural learning. Upon their return they are expected to give a short presentation on their experience to their sponsors. This program is quite popular with North American students, as school lets out at this time. Kiwanis and Lions Clubs usually offer this type of exchange. Rotary Internationalmarker also offers a program called R.O.S.E. (rotary overseas short-term exchange) where a student exchanges homes directly with another student of a foreign country at the same time.

University exchange

A University Exchange occurs when sister universities trade off students, or through special programs such as Rotary International's Ambassadorial Scholarship or through the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). Students attend university classes and often live in dormitories, although some may not be on-site. These exchanges can last anywhere from a single semester to an entire education.


Programs vary depending upon programme length, country, content and other factors. Most program costs include insurance and other risk management components, especially health insurance. Some scholarships cover all program expenses and the international flight, as is the case with the Congress-Bundestag scholarship.

Exchange students in popular culture

In popular USA culture, exchange students from other countries have often been stereotyped as exaggerated caricatures of their home countries, thus doing a disservice to exchange programs whose rules would not allow a student with bad behavior to remain in the host country.

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