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A student exchange program may involve international travel, but does not necessarily require the student to study outside their home country.
Foreign exchange programs provide students with an opportunity to study in a different country and environment experiencing the history and culture of another country, as well as meeting new friends to enrich their personal development. International exchange programs are also effective to challenge students to develop a global perspective.
The term "exchange" means that a partner institution accepts a student, but does not necessarily mean that the students have to find a counterpart from the other institution with whom to exchange. Exchange students live with a host family or in a designated place such as a hostel, an apartment, or a student lodging. Costs for the program vary by the country and institution. Participants fund their participation via scholarships, loans, or self-funding.
Student exchanges became popular after World War II, and are intended to increase the participants' understanding and tolerance of other cultures, as well as improving their language skills and broadening their social horizons. Student exchanges also increased further after the end of the Cold War. An exchange student typically stays in the host country for a period of 6 to 12 months however, exchange students may opt to stay for one semester at a time. International students or those on study abroad programs may stay in the host country for several years. Some exchange programs also offer academic credit.
A short-term exchange program is also known as summer/intensive or cultural exchange program. These focus on homestays, language skills, community service, or cultural activities. High school and university students can apply for the programs through various government or non-governmental organizations that organize the programs. A short-term exchange lasts from one week to three months and doesn't require the student to study in any particular school or institution. The students are exposed to an intensive program that increases their understanding of other cultures, communities, and languages.
A long-term exchange is one which lasts six to ten months or up to one full year. Participants attend high school or university in their host countries, through a student visa (depending on what host country you choose to go to, you may need to apply for a dual citizenship). Typically, guest students coming to the United States are issued a J-1 cultural exchange visa or an F-1 foreign student visa. Students are expected to integrate themselves into the host family, immersing themselves in the local community and surroundings. Upon their return to their home country they are expected to incorporate this knowledge into their daily lives, as well as give a presentation on their experience to their sponsors. Many exchange programs expect students to be able converse in the language of the host country, at least on a basic level. Some programs require students to pass a standardized test for English language comprehension prior to being accepted into a program taking them to the United States. Other programs do not examine language ability. Most exchange students become fluent in the language of the host country within a few months. Some exchange programs, such as the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, are government-funded programs.
The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel is a not-for-profit organization committed to quality international educational travel and exchange for youth at the high school level.
Long-term (10 to 12 month) exchange applications and interviews generally take place 10 months in advance of departure, but sometimes as little as four months. Students generally must be between the ages of 13 and 18. Some programs allow students older than 18 years of age in a specialized work-study program.
Some programs require a preliminary application form with fees, and then schedule interviews and a longer application form. Other programs request a full application from the beginning and then schedule interviews. High school scholarship programs often require a set GPA of around 2.5 or higher. Programs select the candidates most likely to complete the program and serve as the best ambassadors to the foreign nation. Students in some programs, such as Rotary, are expected to go to any location where the organization places them, and students are encouraged not to have strict expectations of their host country. Students are allowed to choose a country, but may live at any spot within that country.
The home country organization will contact 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 US may be allowed to come on the recommendation of the organization in their home country, or the hosting partner may require the student to submit a detailed application, including previous school report cards, letters from teachers and administrators, and standardized English fluency exam papers. The US agency may then accept or decline the applicant. Some organizations also have Rules of Participation. For example, almost all US organizations cannot allow an exchange student to drive an automobile during their visit. Some organizations require a written contract that sets standards for personal behavior and grades, while others may be less rigorous. Lower cost programs can result in a student participating without a supervisor being available nearby to check on the student's well-being. Programs provided by agencies that provide compensation for representatives are more likely to retain local representatives to assist and guide the student and keep track of their well-being.
The costs of student exchange are determined by the charges from a student exchange program organisation or the university or college. The costs vary depending on the country, length of study and other personal factors. Different programs through the school/university of choice may offer students scholarships that cover the expenses of travel and accommodation and the personal needs of a student.
Each state in Australia provides a different program of student exchange for secondary students. The programmes from each state are different for whether a student in Australia is looking to study internationally or a student from another country is looking to study in Australia. Student exchange in Australia, depending on the state, must be managed by registered exchange organisations or the school chosen for study must be registered. The countries that are most popular for Australian students to choose to study are, Japan, France, Germany, USA, Italy, Canada, Belgium, Spain and Argentina. The main purpose of student exchange in Australia is to allow students to study, engage and experience a new culture. International students who choose to study in Australia are given different opportunities through the programmes at set schools will learn about Australian culture, but also gain English language skills at a high school level.
Exchange programs for University students to study abroad varies depending on the university campus offers. International student exchange programs for university students is aimed to enhance students intercultural skills and knowledge. Student exchange programs for University students gives the opportunity to broaden their knowledge on their study of choice from a different country, this gives university students a chance to develop their work experience by seeing how the profession they are studying is practised in another country. International exchange for tertiary students allows them to gain a cultural experience on their studies, but also giving them a chance to travel abroad while completing their degree.
A series of studies conducted within the last decade found similar results in students studying abroad in Spain for a short-term and/or semester long program. These studies found that students can improve their speaking proficiency during one semester, there is a positive relationship between students' integrative motivation and interaction with second language culture, and student contact with the Spanish language has a great effect on their speaking improvement. We especially see these results in students who live with host families during their program. Anne Reynolds-Case found improvements in understanding and usage of the vosotros form after studying in Spain. One study specifically studies culture perceptions of students studying abroad in Spain. Alan Meredith defines culture as consisting "of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts." Questionnaires were given to students living with host families during a two-month program in Spain. He studies how these groups perceive customs, such as concern for personal appearance, physical contact, cooking styles, politics, etc. The study found a variety of results depending the cultural custom. However, the American students' perceptions most closely aligned with the Young Spaniards (16-22 years old). At the same time, Angela George's study found little significance in the adoption of regional features during their semester abroad. Though most of these studies focused on students who came from America to study in Spain, the United States is not the only one sending their students. Brian Denman's article demonstrates an increase of Saudi student mobility for education, including locations such as Spain.
Even though exchange students learn to improve themselves through the experience of studying and staying in another country, there are also many difficulties to be encountered. One of them is when exchange students are unable to adapt to pedagogy followed by the host country. Another is conflicts between the host family (who have provided accommodation) and the students, when it can not be solved by communicating with each other and the student usually will be asked to stay with another host until they find a new match. This process, however, could take time while the students' duration of stay is limited. Even with preparation and knowledge about the new environment, they could still experience culture shock, which can affect them in different ways. Students from a completely different culture  can also encounter homesickness for a longer period of time. Lack of transportation can also become a major problem, because the chances students buying a car during a short period of stay is less likely to happen. Moreover, students will find it hard to find a job, even part-time since most exchange visas do not allow students to work and it is difficult to obtain one that does. Another potential drawback is health issues that can occur during the stay in a foreign country. All students are encouraged to consult a travel health expert, and be up to date with their vaccinations. Always have health insurance while traveling abroad, and carry emergency contact details of your local hosts and of multiple family members as well.