Student Exchange Program: A History
Just a reminder before we begin: A student exchange program is a multi-institutional agreement that lets students from one university spend a semester or two at another and vice versa. For example, as a student from Europe, I might do a semester in the UK, and a student from there can come to my university. Universities establish bilateral partnerships based on positive international cooperation and the compatibility of the programs they offer.
Student exchange programs gained popularity in the twentieth century, soaring after World War I. Continuous exchanges aimed to promote international understanding, cooperation, and tolerance in order to prevent another war. Unfortunately, history would want it differently, but despite the failure of global politics, student exchanges remained popular, peaking in the 1980s.
Nowadays, multiple esteemed programs allow students to cross many boundaries by studying abroad. Exchanges can be short-term (like language courses, homestays, and research visits) or long-term (semester/year abroad, academic exchanges for scholars, or longer international projects). During their stay, students can experience new modes of teaching and learning, master a language, and enhance their intercultural understanding.
Why You Should Become a Foreign Exchange Student Already
There are numerous benefits to being a part of this long-standing tradition. I’ll outline a few, in no particular order:
- Foreign exchange promotes greater tolerance. When you jump into a completely different world, you may find that you don’t like every aspect of it, and that is OK. Different cultures have different value systems and different work-ethic or leisure-time preferences. Still, being fully immersed in a different culture promotes the development of emotional intelligence, higher empathy, and an understanding of opposing habits and views. To challenge yourself, you should try a completely different culture and see how it changes you😊.
- You get increased global exposure. Nothing screams true cosmopolitanism like engaging with people with different backgrounds. Student exchange programs are an ideal way to do this in a safe environment conducive to your studies and your knowledge of the world.
- You will boost your social skills. New people, new teachers, and new learning methods will help you improve your soft skills, which you will need for the rest of your life.
- Experience great networking opportunities. You never know who you might meet and how you might help each other in the future. You can do internships and attend conferences or job fairs. Keep your eyes open for opportunities – life is a winding path, and it might take you to unexpected places!
- Exchanges are great for language learning. Better yet, if you study linguistics, the total immersion in another language will help you understand it at a deeper level. For example, having lived in Germany for a few years, I can now anticipate the type of mistakes German speakers might make when speaking English.
- You’ll have a great time overall. Hey, I’m not going to lie; student exchange parties are the best parties. Sure, you need to study, but you’ve got to keep that work-life balance, too, right? 😊
Have I convinced you yet? I thought so, so let’s check out some …
International Student Exchange Programs
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the world as a student – from full immersion and enrolment to short-term au-pair visits. However, there is no need to get lost in possibilities when there are some highly-acclaimed and accessible programs that have become the name of the game in the international student sphere.
But how do you go about it? If you’re worried that it all seems too simple, you are not entirely wrong. There will be paperwork to prepare and a visa to stress over, but you’ll need a more specific query before you get there. The best way to get information is through your school or university website. Under international exchanges and cooperation, you’ll be able to find a list of institutions your university partners with and what kind of programs are offered.
In the meantime, I’m listing some of the most credible organisations governing student exchanges worldwide.
High School Exchange Programs
- ICES Student Exchange and Academic Programs. If there ever was an organisation geared towards high school exchanges, it would be ICES. In addition to their variety of partnerships with many institutions, ICES also offers counselling and support to students as they navigate new intercultural experiences.
- MyEducation. As they say on their homepage, you can experience a whole lifetime in one year abroad. From Argentina to Japan, you can pick your destination and high school, pack your bags, and hit the road!
- EF Academy. EF is a well-known organisation that mainly focuses on language exchanges. However, they do offer programs that admit students to their private high schools all over the world.
- CIEE High School USA. If you want to study in the US, CIEE is your best bet. They have exchange programs in every state, with some of the best high schools offering spots to international students.
- NACEL Educational Travel. NACEL offers one of the more sophisticated search options and opportunities across the globe. Given their long history of managing exchanges, they are extremely trustworthy, diverse, and flexible. Like ICES, they will actively help you throughout your quest for knowledge abroad.
University Exchange Programs
- Erasmus. Now this is the name every university student should know. Extremely well-connected, Erasmus offers student exchanges at virtually every university in the world. I’m not even joking! You can filter through their website via destination or course of study and check out what works for you!
- Fulbright Student Program. This organisation focuses on the international exchange between the US and any other country, inviting students from all over the world to live the authentic college experience. In addition to a multitude of courses, they also award hefty scholarships!
- IES Abroad. In contrast with the Fulbright program, IES Abroad aims to send students from the US across the world. Apart from merit-based scholarships, they also help you find accommodation in the form of homestays, student halls, and dorms.
- AIFS Abroad. Another one of those super-versatile exchange organisations. You can search by country, location, or type of course and apply for financial support.
- Bonus tip: if you already know where you would like to study, I suggest googling and contacting the university directly to receive the most up-to-date information and offers.
Bonus: Language Camps and Summer Schools
While language camps do not necessarily match the full student experience, they still offer all the benefits of a student exchange with a specific focus on language learning. Similarly, Summer schools may not feel like total enrolment, but they are just as educational and interactive, and you can even get some ECTS points! So, to name a few:
- EF. As I said, there’s hardly a more famous, long-standing language-exchange organisation than EF. You can travel anywhere globally, receive expert tuition, and enjoy the intercultural experience.
- Summer Schools in Europe. These are super easy to apply to – send your basic documents and possibly a motivation letter to the organisers directly. They have a well-developed ECTS point exchange system, so whatever you earn during the Summer, you can count it towards your next semester’s score.
- AEGEE Europe. A more relaxed approach to Summer schools is AEGEE – an international student forum that organises Summer and Winter Universities™ all over Europe. The only thing you need to do is become a member of the antenna closest to you and follow their calls for participants.
- SMAPSE Education. If you want to do a Summer school in the US, this database will get you there the fastest. Pick your course of study or field of interest, and let the search tool do the rest for you.
- Bonus database: Study Portals. Study Portals is a comprehensive guide to study programs, application processes, and tips and tricks for adjustment and organisation. If you’re unsure where you want to go, let yourself be inspired😊.
But How Do You Apply for a Student Exchange Program?
Well, unfortunately, I have bad news for you. The only way to apply for exchange programs is through your home institution. Check their website or talk to the head of the international office to ensure your ideal exchange is possible, and they will provide you with the necessary forms and checklists.
One thing’s for sure; you will need a student visa. Once you get the go-ahead from your university or school, look up the nearest embassy or consulate of the country you want to visit. Under consular services, you will find the application form and the explanation of the process, as well as the documents you need to prepare. Most embassies have a fast-track line for exchange students, but you should still apply ahead of time in case of any inconveniences. Trust me; there will be problems with paperwork. You haven’t done an exchange until you’ve had to put out at least two administrative fires.
Additionally, you will most likely need a CV, motivation letter, and transcripts of grades and diplomas – so you might as well prepare them (and translate them if necessary) in advance. Uh! I’m tired just thinking about it, and I’m about to submit my own visa application for a research trip! Don’t be discouraged by the drudgery of paperwork – the awesome experience awaiting you will more than make up for it!
What Are the Best Student Exchange Programs?
With all this blabbering, I’m sure you must have asked yourself what the best programs out there are. But let me ask you a question: What is the best movie in the world? I bet your answer would be different than mine because I shamelessly claim that Spotlight is. [My partner is yelling Chicken Run from the other room. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should!]
My point is that the best student exchange program is the one that fits your needs. While it’s easy to just follow the Top 10 Universities™ on the Shanghai list, it does not mean that these places are a good fit for you. When picking a program, focus primarily on the kind of courses they offer and how much you can gain from them. Challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone, but do it judiciously. If the place matters, choose from there. And make sure that you have something that’ll make you want to go to class too (and not just party all the time).
International exchanges are meant to be holistic experiences that contribute to your academic and social well-being. Make sure you make the most of it! 😊