Student Exchange Programs Research Paper Starter

Student Exchange Programs

This article provides a comprehensive overview of student exchange programs at both the college and K-12 level. Discussion focuses on different types of exchange programs, overarching goals, benefits and specific examples of exchange programs developed at the K-12 level. Emphasis is placed on the primary goal of all student exchange programs - to develop a greater sense of awareness, appreciation and respect for different societies and cultural norms throughout the world. The article provides practical suggestions for initiating an exchange program in a school as well as highlights alternative perspectives on international education at all levels.

Keywords Exchange Programs; Global Understanding; Intergroup Contact; International Sibling Program; Protective Studies; Service Learning; Study Tour; Total Immersion


Three of the most common models of student exchange programs at the college level include total immersion, protective studies, and tour models (Kraft, Ballantine, & Garvey, 1994; cited in Sowa, 2002). Total immersion programs place students in a foreign country, typically for one year. Students participate in coursework and an in-depth study of the language and culture of the host country (Kraft, Ballantine, & Garvey, 1994). The protective studies model connects students in U.S. programs with resident advisors and instructors in other countries and the study tour model, short in duration, provides a general overview of a specific topic or country (Kraft, Ballantine, & Garvey, 1994). According to Sowa (2002), these models are not distinct and can be combined in certain types of student exchange experiences. The majority of research focuses on college level student exchange programs, as these are the most common in U.S. schools.

However, some unique examples of exchange programs do exist at the K-12 level. Such programs do not involve intense year long placements in foreign countries, but rather organize meaningful structured interactions between students from two culturally diverse settings. Exchange programs at this level sometimes take the form of collaborative projects throughout the year accompanied by an exchange similar to a study tour and are even sometimes attempted with students as young as first grade. For obvious reasons, however, research regarding exchange programs for elementary and middle school children is limited as not many individual opportunities for students this young exist. Regardless, some schools have found unique ways to develop ties with educational institutions abroad.

Goals of Student Exchange Programs

One of the overarching goals of student exchange programs is to promote a greater awareness, appreciation and respect for other countries and cultures. Kraft, Ballantine, & Garvey (1994) highlight the most common goals of exchange programs including improved language skills and acquisition, individual and personal development, and an enhanced international and global understanding. Sowa (2002) cites the Council on International Educational Exchange (2001) that program goals include promoting peaceful cooperation between countries, assisting individuals to broaden their understanding of their own society and those of other countries and enabling students to acquire new skills. All exchange programs start out with the goal of bridging cultural understandings, promoting positive relationships, and increasing general awareness and respect for multiple perspectives on a range of societal issues. The core philosophy of most exchange programs is to create opportunities for young students to interact with people from around the world to enhance global perspectives and set the foundation for peaceful coexistence in the future.

In some instances, student exchange programs are designed with the overarching goal of helping to improve the lives of individuals in developing nations who need aid in many different forms. Some programs provide technical assistance, develop educational programs, and provide needed aid by fostering international service learning (Arum & Van de Water, 1992; cited in Sowa, 2002). These programs differ in scope and objective from more traditional student exchange programs. However, students still gain a deep understanding and appreciation for different cultures and may even gain a richer understanding as compared to students who visit industrialized nations around the world. Additionally, as a direct result of the experience, students reflect introspectively and adjust their own perspective regarding their own cultural and societal norms. Although the direct benefits many not be intended solely for the exchange student, he/she benefits from life-impacting experiences and alters his/her perspectives on political and societal issues endemic to developing nations.

Lambert (1993) acknowledges the goals discussed above as predominant guiding principles for the development of student exchange programs, but also illuminates a slightly different perspective. Lambert asserts that there are serious gaps in the knowledge many Americans have about the rest of the world and that this lack of information is a primary motivator for the growth of international exchange programs. Lambert discusses the fact that many Americans have a limited range of knowledge with regard to countries, cultures and religions outside of the United States. Student exchange programs help to fill this gap while also fostering a sense of empathy and understanding for diverse cultures (Lambert, 1993).

Benefits of Student Exchange Programs

Personal development, enhanced learning proficiency, and the development of a strong cross-cultural understanding are among the most cited benefits of student exchange programs (Sowa, 2002). In a study conducted by Kitsantas (2004), research demonstrated that student exchange programs help prepare students to participate and contribute to a multicultural world and promote international understanding of various issues. Other studies indicate that exchange programs encourage and foster abundant interest in travel, art, foreign languages, history and architecture (Carsello & Greaser, 1976; cited in Kitsantas, 2004). Such programs have a strong effect on student interest and engagement in learning about different cultures.

Kitsantas (2004) provides insight into a study conducted by Carlson & Widaman (1988) concerning the benefits of studying abroad. The researchers discussed perspectives on global issues and cross-cultural understandings with 450 students who participated in recent exchange programs. Carlson & Widaman (1988) found that the exchange experience resulted in increased levels of international political concern, enhanced cross-cultural interest and cross-cultural cosmopolitanism.

Stangor (1996) comments specifically on attitude changes over time and how exchange programs arranged with as much direct intergroup contact as possible are the most successful at instilling positive attitude changes among participants. Stangor (1996) notes that the amount of contact students have with host country members is a strong predictor of how positive students feel about their host country upon return to the United States. The more students interact with individuals from the host country, the more likely they are to have positive attitudes toward their experience upon return home. Thus, exchange programs encourage students to reflect on their own perspectives and make adjustments throughout the learning process.

With regard to exchange programs specifically focused on providing aid to developing countries, research highlights the fact that such programs provide opportunities for students to gain a deep understanding of environmental and social problems in developing nations and the implications of such problems for the rest of the world (Racette, 1996; cited in Sowa, 2002). Such experiences provide an opportunity for students to participate in a society and culture so different from their own; the impact on their perspective is tremendous. Racette (1996) further discusses the critical importance of such exchange programs because they foster a deep sense of peaceful coexistence within the United States, specifically with respect to understanding and living with immigrants (Sowa, 2002).

Examples of Student Exchange Programs

Although many examples of successful student exchange programs exist at the college level, some special programs have been developed at the K-12 level. Each program has been developed with the objective of enhancing student understanding and appreciation for similarities and differences between cultures. As opposed to traditional college level...

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