What is it like to work for an international exchange student company?
December 6, 2013 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Anyone have experience working as a coordinator/host family recruiter for a international exchange student company like this one, International Experience?

I recently found a job posting seeking coordinators for an exchange student company called International Experience (bringing students to the U.S. from countries abroad). In trying to learn more about the company, I found out that there are several companies which seem to use a similar model for their staffing. Basically, it is a freelance sort of gig where you work in your city to recruit host families and be a liaison for the families, students and schools once they arrive. You get trained, promotional materials and support from the national company. It seems like pay is partially or entirely based on how many families you recruit, or at least you have the option of getting perks like trips abroad if you recruit many families. It's billed as a supplemental income thing.

I didn't know gigs like this existed. It sounds really great for me but also like you would run the risk of frustration or little reward for your time investment if it was a disorganized organization. Anyone have experience with these companies or can recommend one over another? Glassdoor and google didn't yield any discussion of employee experiences.
posted by dahliachewswell to Work & Money (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, the best scenario for home-stay placements is for a trusted independent contractor to act as a liaison between the students abroad and the host families locally, to help connect the dots and match people up. It's definitely needed, and there are few individuals in my city (it's very popular with language students) who do this sort of thing.

Of course, not every potential contractor has the connections needed overseas. So "International Experience" does instead. International Experience itself is a hub in a chain feeders in whatever company (typically language schools in the home country).

But as you can see, when you have so many organizations hoping to take a cut from one exchange student, margins are pretty fucking thin.

Which is why they have this boiler-room, quasi-franchise model. It's low, low cost for them.

The problem with the model is that there is very little compelling or motivating the contractor to do a good job, especially if pickings are slim.

And so doing what's best for the exchange student flies out the window. It's like Maslow's hierarchy of needs - if you are worried about paying the rent or feeding yourself (and under this model that will be a real worry) you are not going to worry so much about the homestay placements.

What these kids need is someone to look out for them. Homestay families, of course, are another link in the chain, and erode the margins. While some homestay families are genuinely interested in cultural exchange, a significant amount are looking for a mortgage helper.

This causes problems - the homestay kids are not going to bond with the families and will have a terrible time ("You will receive 2 pieces of white bread and peanut butter for your lunch, and no more.")

Ideally, a coordinator will help smooth out these differences, but in an eat-what-you-kill scenario that is going to be tough.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:57 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have some insights into this "industry" because my sister helped set up an exchange program between a rural community in Japan and a local school board. The folks in Japan saw the relationship as an opportunity for genuine cultural exchange. The school board apparatchiks who ran the program saw the exchange as a source of revenue.

Since I ran a school in Japan, these jokers often requested that I send leads their way for their "international program" (international students pay 4X the cost of tuition), but I said "no thanks", mainly because the homestay family situation was so bad.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:06 PM on December 6, 2013

I did something related to this. Summary: It was horrible. They expected me to be available all the time, put tons of pressure on me and the host families, managed money in a crazy way, and generally expected FAR more than they were willing to pay for (or that I signed on for). Honestly, the way you've described this organization makes it sound much the same. I would avoid it if I were you. If you're interested in working with international students, there are better jobs out there. If it just sounds like easy money, well...
posted by wintersweet at 8:40 PM on December 6, 2013

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