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Teen Study Abroad

High School and Youth Exchange Abroad Programs

Study and Exchange at a Rotary Club Changes Your Life in More Ways Than You Can Imagine

Visiting Community Elder at Rotary
Organizations such as Rotary are great ways to meet and interact with locals of all ages, such as this elder. Photo by Nora Dunn.

Give it a try. It will change your life in more ways than you can imagine!" said Amanda Weatherford, 18, when asked her advice for other teens considering participating in a youth exchange program. Weatherford recently spent an academic year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Thailand.

Each year 34,000+ Rotary clubs worldwide sponsor thousands of visitors in 200+ countries. The clubs operate both in short-term—several days to several weeks—and long-term exchange programs—usually an academic year.

Weatherford, a high-school graduate from Texas, said she chose a long-term program because, "I wanted to actually live as the people do and go to school just like a normal person of that country."

Carey Wickham, 16, who, like Weatherford, was also a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Thailand, echoed Weatherford’s sentiment about the choice of a long-term program over a short-term program. "I figured that a short-term exchange would only give me a brief glimpse of the cultural aspects of another country, whereas a year would give me enough time to try to understand it as well as achieve a better grasp of the language," she explained.

While Rotary clubs do their best to grant a student’s first choice of where they want to live and study, sometimes students are placed in a very different country. Wickham’s first choice was Thailand, and Weatherford’s was Italy. "But now I am glad that I didn’t go there!" said Weatherford.

Both young women described their experience in the homes and schools of Thais as life-changing. Wickham, a high-school junior in Washington, felt that the year was not only a time for her to better understand and to grow to love another culture but also to better understand herself.

"It’s a life-changing year that I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world," she explained. "You meet people from so many places and it totally opens up the way you look at the world." Once a student makes the commitment to go overseas for a year Wickham advises that he or she really think about how the experience is a chance to get an inside look at another culture. "Don’t bother to think about home," she recommended. "You can go back whenever you want, [but] your exchange is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

To learn more about Rotary or other youth exchange programs a good place to start is by talking with your school’s guidance counselor, who can tell you about your school’s involvement in youth exchange—either by hosting international students or sending its students overseas. Your school may have established partnerships with youth exchange programs like Rotary and AFS or direct partnerships with schools abroad.

Another useful resource is the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET). It sets standards for and evaluates U.S.-based high school exchange programs and publishes the results of the evaluation process in its annual Advisory List. In addition, Internet education and travel databases like Goabroad.com, Studyabroad.com, and the Transitions Abroad High School Study Abroad and Teen Travel Overseas section have information on many types of high school exchange programs.

Include Your Parents

As you explore the possibilities of and the organizations involved in youth exchange, it’s important to include your parents in the process. Share with them not only your interest and reasons for wanting to go abroad but also the essential facts about the programs in which you are interested. Understand that it is difficult for parents to see a child leave home for a long period of time—especially to a different country. Both you and they will want to take the time to fully understand and evaluate the chosen program’s cost and features, reputation and references, and how well it addresses health and safety issues. Not only is this important to ensure that you have chosen the program that is best for you; it will reassure your parents that you will be cared for.

Exchange Programs and Resources

Long-Term Youth Exchange Programs

Generally youth exchange programs are geared for students 13-18 years of age. Program requirements vary, so check to make sure that you meet the application requirements. The following is a sampling of youth exchange organizations, not including the many offered by governments, such as the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs:

AFS, www.afs.org
AYUSA International, www.ayusa.org
Nacel Open Door, www.nacelopendoor.org
Rotary Youth Exchange, www.rotary.org
Youth For Understanding, www.yfu-usa.org

Additional Resources

  1. Former American exchange students and current international exchange students at your high school.
  2. Language or international clubs at your high school.
  3. High school library and city library for educational reference books for teenagers.

Fast Facts from the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET):
(CSIET collected 2010 student numbers on exchange students in a report in PDF format. Statistics later than 2010 require a membership to view.)

  • 29,491 international exchange students came to the U.S. for long-term programs (programs lasting one semester or one academic year)
  • 1,979 U.S. students studied abroad on long-term programs

To learn more about CSIET and its annual Advisory List visit www.csiet.org. You can view a list of all of the organizations that applied for a listing, as well as access email addresses and links to the websites for many of the organizations accepted. Most, but not all, programs in the industry apply for the listing.

You can also purchase a copy of the Advisory List. The published edition provides contact information, listing status (full, provisional, or conditional), a list of countries served, the price range of programs, and other information.

JENNIFER VIALE is a freelance writer in San Francisco. She holds a master’s degree in International Education from the School for International Training.

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