Foreign Exchange programs, not by the State or Capital
October 8, 2019 7:05 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is very interested in doing a high school foreign exchange program, maybe for a semester or a year at some point. We are fine with that, but the programs we are finding - like Rotary, etc. - seem to push a "business leaders of the future / networking" line with state backing that we don't identify with.

Does anyone know of more socially conscious, less capitalist and imperialist exchange programs - or is it just the nature of the beast? I'm imagining programs that have some sort of service component, aren't about building a resume and business networks, and are people centered? Maybe some religious organizations do this, or other orgs with a social justice lens?

I appreciate your thoughts and suggestions!
posted by RajahKing to Education (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There should be a few private providers like CIEE or SIT World Learning that run high school programs that definitely have more of a social justice lens!
posted by something_witty at 7:14 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

AFS—as far asI know, and my son did a year in Hungary, there’s no imperialist agenda.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:15 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Really happy for your family that your daughter wants to persue this bold step as a high schooler! I was an exchange student for my sophomore year, and it was one of the best things I have ever done. I will be forever grateful to my parents and my hometown for the opportunity. I went with Sister Cities whose exchange programs are locally administered. Worth a googling to see if your town's sister cities have this type of exchange, which was free to me. These orgs rarely have marketing budgets, so existence of programs is often all-to-obscure.

YFU stands for "Youth For Understanding" although I do not have personal experience with their program, the values listed on their website look promising, and I remember their name from when i was an exchange student in the late 90s, so their reputation is a long-prolific one. AFS was also around at that time, and had a good reputation on the exchange student message boards.  

I gotta say though, I have a soft spot for Rotary, from having participated in a few programs they had for nerdy internationally oriented high schoolers, and meeting Rotary exchange students. Their language might be a bit musty but they have facilitated a lot of goodness in my experience, and iirc, might be a more inexpensive option relative to the private programs.

As a side note, I would also encourage anyone who can to try hosting a foreign exchange student through any of the organizations listed above. You can often start with short stays! It is an extremely fun family activity and really broadened our horizons.
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:03 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I participated in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange when I was in high school. Yes, it's government sponsored but honestly, aside from a mandatory orientation in Washington DC, we were sent off to Germany and just lived ordinary lives with a host family with very little intrusion from the program directors.

There was a lot of autonomy, at least from my experience. I signed up for ballet classes at a local dance school and art lessons at a Volkshochschule. I hung out with friends. I went to a Gesamtschule.

There was one program meet-up per season (autumn, spring and the summer at the end of the year) where we all convened with other exchange students in the program. In theory, there were meant to be official program lectures where we learned Very Important Things but we blew them off and had fun adventures in Weimar and Berlin.

There was no resume building or business networking. I'm a better person for that year.
posted by quadrant seasons at 12:58 PM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, came here to suggest YFU. I participated in their exchange program in [cough] 1991. I liked the experience, for the most part, although there were parts that were less ideal. Too busy to write more right now but I can elaborate later if you are interested.
posted by M. at 1:20 PM on October 8, 2019

My step-son did a CIEE program last summer and it was wonderful! Not necessarily social justice minded, but definitely not imperialist. The focus was on culture and community and exploration. He loved every minute of it.
posted by tangosnail at 1:59 PM on October 8, 2019

I did an AFS exchange from NZ to Japan in 2003-2004 when I was 16. It was a really good year and I'd highly recommend AFS. You are expected to host a student as well. My family ended up hosting 4 students over the years.
posted by poxandplague at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2019

I did both a local Sister Cities 3-week exchange in high school and a year-long Rotary youth exchange right out of high school. Both were fantastic experiences! While I can see the "business leaders of the future / networking" thing with Rotary for adults, I didn't see it with the Rotary youth exchange program. Rotary did seem to have some of the better support systems when I was being hosted & talking to fellow exchanges.

Friends of mine both in my home and host countries did AFS and YFU. I've heard it can depend on where you're headed, but both were good for friends who were in them.
posted by wiskunde at 5:26 PM on October 8, 2019

I received a $300 scholarship from Rotary, and went to a dinner for scholarship winners and the international students Rotary had sponsored. This was the only event the international students attended.

We all had to talk for a few minutes. One of the international students had a humorous story about not knowing the American word to ask for an "eraser" in class. No one mentioned any business networking.

Rotary is supposed to be a humanitarian service organization -- it sounds like you came across a club that might have emphasized other things, but personally I've not seen this emphasis on business and capitalism you are seeing, though with the large number of groups they have I imagine there is much variation.

I did know someone involved in AFS. I can't speak about this situation in detail, but I did hear something about a very difficult situation where the higher up AFS office for the area pulled strings to make sure an exchange student was kept safe in a very dangerous situation, even though it was technically against the rules. However, I'm sure that's very dependent on who is running the local office.
posted by yohko at 9:20 PM on October 8, 2019

I also wanted to respond to vouch for the Rotary exchange program! My family hosted several students through them and there wasn't much (if any) emphasis on "business leaders" or anything like that. The only thing I can remember was that the students went to a Rotary club meeting one time to speak about their experience, but it was pretty low-key if I remember correctly. The pros of that program: that it was a large, well-established system with a support network in place. We hosted from other smaller/local systems too, and it did feel different (less organized, or not managed as well or whatever). My perspective is that of a "sibling" in a host family so take my advice with whatever grains of salt you would like :)
posted by carlypennylane at 9:39 AM on October 9, 2019

I do not have personal experience of this program, but I have several friends who did Amigos de las Americas as high schoolers. They speak very highly of it and regard it as a formative experience. It is firmly grounded in community service.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 5:25 PM on October 9, 2019

I was involved with AFS for several years and overall people I have known had good experiences. They are a homestay program so a lot depends on the family and community, but most places have established networks of people who support a student. Teens can do a year of school or, if over 18 (its a bit fuzzy, may get to do it at 17) they can do volunteer work in some places. You do not have to host a student but it is strongly encouraged.
I did an SIT program during college and it was very well run and more rigorously academic than a lot of other programs I looked at. It was social justice focused. I don't know about their high school programs.
You may want to see if anyone at your daughter's high school works with one of these programs. High schools often have a relationship with one of these programs or could point you towards someone who does.
posted by arachnidette at 7:28 PM on October 9, 2019

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