Looking for a New Hope? Become an Exchange Student or a Host Family

Chewbacca saying apply to an exchange program

The Stars Wars saga has been used to explain society, culture, and political trends. Some have argued that it may represent a statement about our cultural values and show the power of myths and storytelling. Today, on Star Wars Day, I read one article observing that “fake news” gave rise to the Galactic Empire and another article using the behind-the-scenes development of the trilogies’ story lines to explain U.S. constitutional law.

But the best lines I’ve seen so far today on Star Wars Day relate to international cultural exchange:

Looking for a new hope? Apply to an exchange program

With permission from the dedicated folks at the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, we share these images:

May the 4th be with you images

#Maythe4thBeWithYou . . . and may the positive force of international cultural exchange be with you, ever and always … every day!

Connect with the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Programs on Facebook and Twitter, and visit the Department’s study abroad website for more information on exchange programs for U.S. citizens who want to study or travel abroad and non-U.S. citizens coming to the U.S. It’s a great resource and a good place to start your search, both for students and for potential host families. See our list of some international exchange opportunities on our website here, and don’t forget to also visit the website of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel for lists of approved J-1 and F-1 exchange organizations.

Highlight of the Week: Generation Study Abroad

Something that people often find surprising when we talk to them about international education and cultural exchange is how few American students choose to study abroad, either at the high school or college level. So this week I’m highlighting an initiative here in the U.S. that more people should know about. The Generation Study Abroad initiative, spearheaded by the Institute of International Education, aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of this decade. As part of this five-year goal, IIE is investing $2 million in the initiative, and the organization is seeking funds to provide scholarships to college and high school students.

Why is this initiative even needed? Here are some of the numbers.

  • At the college level, 289,400 students studied abroad during 2012-2013, an increase of 2% over the previous year. Sounds like a lot in raw numbers, right? But look at the total: 2.6 million students in this country graduate with associate or BA degrees every year. The number of students studying abroad totals only about 1% of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States, and under 10% of U.S. graduates.
  • At the high school level, just over 1,100 U.S. students studied abroad during 2013-2014. This represents a steady decline over the past decade:
Source: CSIET, 2013-2014 International Youth Exchange Statistics (2014).
Source: CSIET, 2013-2014 International Youth Exchange Statistics (2014).

IIE recognizes that studying abroad costs money, and that this has been a barrier for many students. The initiative includes the establishment of a Study Abroad Fund; companies and individuals can both donate to the Fund. An additional goal of the initiative is to “find new ways to extend study abroad opportunities to tens of thousands of college students for whom traditional study abroad programs aren’t working.”

How is the initiative doing? At its Generation Study Abroad Summit just a few weeks ago, IIE announced that it has received pledges of US $185 million in support over the next five years. The initiative has more than 600 partner organizations, including 350 U.S. colleges and universities and 100 from outside of the United States, study abroad and education organizations, and 14 country partners. About 500 teachers from all 50 states have pledged to encourage their students to develop a global perspective and consider studying abroad.

There’s a long way to go. The numbers are still low as compared to the numbers of students who come to the United States each year at the high school and college level. Additionally, the majority of U.S. students who study abroad come from middle-class and affluent families, and racial diversity is not very high:

Source: NAFSA, Trends in U.S. Study Abroad, based on data from IIE Open Doors Report and U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.
Source: NAFSA, Trends in U.S. Study Abroad, based on data from IIE Open Doors Report and U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

Programs like this are what we need. For more information, visit the Generation Study Abroad page on the IIE website, and take a look at the one-year progress report IIE recently published.

Study Abroad: Finally, Parents Are Now Part of the Picture

A Review of Berdan et al.’s A Parent Guide to Study Abroad

Parents-Guide-to-Study-Abroad-IIE-Front-Cover-ImageHigh school exchange program coordinators talk about the needs of students and the needs of host families. Add in the needs, resources, and limitations of the schools we work with and you have a three-legged stool supporting a successful exchange year.

But the truth is it’s a four-legged stool. Parents back home can be a key factor, particularly in today’s world of instant communications, even if those parents are often unseen and unheard; it’s just a function of how exchange programs operate that we may have little or no contact with the shadowy figures who send us these teenagers year after year. It’s not just coordinators, either; host parents may or may not have communication with their student’s parents.  If they do communicate, it may be rife with cultural and language misunderstandings, and host parents often feel that their student’s parents do not fully understand what is involved in the cultural exchange experience or the study abroad process.  Finally, the high schools where our students go to school for a semester or academic year rarely have contact with the exchange students’ parents. Yet, solid parent preparation and understanding of the nature of an exchange and study abroad generally are key to a student’s ability to adapt and develop a healthy relationship with his or her host family and community.

Certainly, there are resources about study abroad that can be useful to students’ parents; a recent example that comes to mind is Helene Rybol’s Culture Shock: A Practical Guide (you can read my review of Rybol’s book here). What we don’t see are books or articles specifically exploring the parental side of the equation. Individual exchange programs and university study abroad programs do provide parent orientations, and they work hard to educate parents. Nevertheless — human nature being what it is the world over — parents may not be able to fully assimilate all the information provided to them. Having an outside source can be invaluable.

Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, Allan Goodman, and William Gertz are trying to be that source.  They aim to make parent preparation more transparent in their 2015 publication of A Parent Guide to Study Abroad. Published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the book’s goal is (as stated by IIE) to “arm[] parents with the right mix of practical information to get involved just enough, while also giving the students the independence to learn and grow on their own.” The three authors, all well-known and experienced international education and study abroad professionals, acknowledge that parent involvement is critical for a student’s success. But as Berdan notes in her introduction, not every parent knows where to begin; and as Goodman notes in his introduction, parents need a plan.

So what is that plan, and what do the authors feel parents need to know to be effective? In truth, it’s not a lot different from what students and host families need to know, which shouldn’t really be a surprise.  If you were to only look at the chapter titles, you might think it is almost the same advice as that given to students. Chapters in the book include the value of studying abroad; how to find the best program; addressing costs and means of paying for a study abroad program; staying safe and healthy; and how to prepare for success while in another country.

There are some nuances, however, that are different simply because a parent’s perspective is different from that of a student or that of a host family. For one thing, two chapters specifically address parents’ actions during and after a study abroad program. These are key areas in which parents’ knowledge and expectations can help make or break a student’s successful integration into a host community as well as transitioning back home after three, six, or nine months abroad.

Two minutes into reading the book — indeed, I hadn’t even gotten past the authors’ introductions – I found a perfect example. William Gertz, president and CEO of the American Institute for Foreign Study, compares his own three-month traveling abroad journey many years ago with his daughter’s more recent study abroad experience, focusing on his own perceived needs and well-intentioned actions:

When my daughter went abroad during her junior year, I was excited for her. I wanted her to have “my” experience” (first mistake). But life is different nowadays, and you can’t really unplug. While she was studying in Florence, we spent far too much time talking on Skype and communicating via Facebook. We were always connected; and while this was comforting for us both, it may have hampered the freedom she needed—the freedom of spirit, exploration, and trial and error that I had. Still, she came home a more confident, more accomplished young woman.

Her study abroad program was superbly organized down to every detail, perfect for the millennial generation, complete with ample hand holding. Days packed with detailed itineraries including learning excursions; volunteering trips and language courses were quite the contrast to my backpacking, hostel-hopping days of self discovery. Traveling by air on weekends, she probably had fewer adventures than I had traveling by rail. But I had to remember, this was her experience, not mine.

My strong advice is this: let your children breathe. Don’t call too much, don’t solve all their problems, let them make their own mistakes and find their own path.

I could go on — there is actually quite a bit in this short 60-page book — but this, in a way, is the nutshell of the book’s messages to parents: help your child choose the program that is right for her, not for you; don’t overuse technology to remind them of what they are missing back home while they are trying to learn a whole new world; and let them learn what it is they went abroad to learn.

The book is intended for college students’ parents; moreover, it’s written for U.S. parents. But the issues faced by parents of high school students studying abroad aren’t much different, and the themes of what a parent needs to know and think about apply equally to parents whose students are coming to the U.S. It’s important to have parental support and understanding. It’s important to think about finances; if it’s a good idea for college-age students to understand budgets and how to get access to funds in another country, it’s doubly more so for teenagers who have thought even less than their college counterparts about what ordinary things in life cost. It’s important to think about how you will stay in touch, and how often.  It’s important at all ages to “develop a global mindset so that they will be best positioned for success in our competitive, global marketplace” – “one of the best gifts we can give our children,” Berdan notes.

There is nothing revolutionary in A Parent Guide to Study Abroad. It’s not over-burdened by long explanations. It’s just good, useful advice that all parents should review and periodically refer to while their son or daughter is abroad.  We’ll be recommending it.

*This blog post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com.*
A Parent Guide to Study Abroad is available from IIE Publications for $4.95. IIE is offering a significant discount for bulk copies for schools to give to parents (20 copies for $20.00). The companion book, A Student Guide to Study Abroad, can also be ordered for $14.95, with discounts of 30%-50% for bulk orders.

Why High School Students Should Study Abroad — and Why We Should Help Them Do It

The article highlighted below, written by , former speechwriter for the NATO secretary-general, is a good piece on the value of studying abroad in high school.  He touches on several topics I think important:

  • Encouraging U.S. students to study abroad: critical, in my opinion, for all the other reasons mentioned below.
  • Making study abroad more accessible to a wider group of potential students.  Study abroad has always suffered from only being available to those who can afford it.
  • Long-term benefits from study abroad: learning another language and culture, improving one’s resume for college and future job prospects, learning about one’s own capabilities.
  • Importance in a global economy of having citizens who understand the world just a bit more.

I also thought this article was, in a way, a nice tribute to the bravery and motivation of the high school students around the world who take the leap and study abroad as teenagers without really having a clue about what lies before them.

As Stephenson notes:

Studying abroad is, first and foremost, an instructive exercise in failure. . . . the lesson you learn — that initial setbacks, patience and work are the prerequisites for eventual success — is more important than an A in Calculus.  That lesson can’t be taught. It must be learned firsthand.  A high school year abroad is a quick and dirty way to discover just how ignorant you are. As such, it’s the door to a lifetime of learning and discovery.

 

You can read Stephenson’s article here:  Why High School Students Should Study Abroad.