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.
These programs are available from a number of service-oriented organizations, such as CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange ) World Education Program (WEP), Study Abroad UK , Rotary International's Rotary Youth Exchange, Forte International , DM Discoveries , PAX-Program of Academic Exchange, Youth For Understanding, ASSE , Nacel Open Door and AFS. Civic organizations in some cities offer similar programs, including the Kiwanis or Lions Clubs.
Some students on exchange programs can receive academic credit from the country they study in.
One of the largest such programmes is AIESEC that offers over 4000 exchanges across 100 countries where AIESEC is present. The internships vary between short-term (2-6 months) and long term (6-18 months).
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 host parents who choose them live, 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 applicants 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.
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.