Taking part in a foreign exchange program as a high school student is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for teens to immerse themselves in a new culture, meet new people, and learn about other cultures.
Choosing the wrong program, however, can turn what should be an amazing experience into a major disappointment.
Teens who participate in the best foreign exchange programs are matched with high-quality families and offered the opportunity to experience the country fully.
Great Foreign Exchange Student Programs
The country you wish to visit and the cost of the exchange program should be considered when you are looking for an exchange program. In addition to those basics, you’ll also want to think about how the program finds the family you’ll live with, what special activities you’ll participate in while there, and what past participants have said about the program.
Through their programs, many of the top exchange programs have helped teens make memories for decades.
Since 1965, AFS Intercultural Programs has been offering foreign exchange programs to teens. Canada, New Zealand, France, and Japan are among the countries where the organization has programs. It is possible for teens to participate in a variety of programs, ranging from those that last for the entire school year to those that last a few months during the summer.
An application, along with a letter of recommendation and a doctor’s form, must be submitted by teens who wish to participate in a program. An AFS volunteer must also conduct an in-home interview with them. In order to apply for the program, teens must have a 2.8 grade point average, and depending on the country, they may need to be fluent in the language.
In a 4.5-star rating from Rate My Study Abroad, participants note that AFS has a large network of support and resources due to its size. AFS has offices and employees in every country students travel to, making it easier for students to get support.
Youth for Understanding
According to Lexiophiles, Youth for Understanding (YFU) was rated 4.5 stars on RateMyStudyAbroad.com and among Lexiophiles’ Top 10 English Study Abroad Programs.
As a life-changing program, not just an exchange program, YFU offers students ages 15-18 the opportunity to study abroad for a year, a semester, a summer, or through a specialty program such as sports, nature, or theater.
The program offers exchange opportunities in 35 countries across the globe, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, and others. The majority of destinations do not require the student to speak the language, and some even provide the opportunity to stay with an English-speaking host family.
The cost of a program through YFU ranges from $6,495 to around $20,000.
- The cost of air travel to and from the destination
- A meal and orientation
- Support for YFU locally and globally
- Host families who have been carefully screened
Students can also apply for 200 scholarships from government and corporate sources to help reduce the cost of the programs. By attending a virtual information night or by creating an account on the organization’s website, students can learn more about these scholarships.
Students have been able to study abroad through CIEE programs since 1947. Among the 40 countries in which the organization places students are Germany, Chile, France, Ireland, Japan, Spain, and New Zealand. As a result, all of its programs, including those for high school and beyond, have received four and a half out of five stars from Abroad101.
Students are provided with plenty of information by CIEE to help them make the most of their trip. It includes hosting an orientation in-country after students arrive and requiring them to attend pre-trip orientations.
To make the experience less stressful, the company also books students traveling to the same country on the same flight. A local coordinator makes regular visits to students abroad and assists them in case of an emergency.
An experiment in International Living
The Experiment in International Living’s three to five-week programs abroad have received rave reviews from parents and students. The cost of these programs generally ranges from $4,500 to $7,500 during the summer. In contrast to other study abroad programs, The Experiment in International Living provides students with themed experiences.
Students may travel to France to study food or Brazil to learn about environmental stability, for example. In addition to the thematic experience, students participate in a homestay.
The majority of the students’ time is spent with an experiment group, a group of 10-15 other students, and two adult leaders.
During the day, students are always in groups of three or more, and after dark, they are always with a program leader or host family. A typical three- to five-week program consists of the following components:
- Three to four days of cross-cultural orientation
- Taking a homestay
- An experience based on a theme
- An opportunity for reflection and evaluation
Students interested in studying abroad with The Experiment in International Living can create an online account to gain access to more information.
Rotary Youth Exchange
Rotary International offers the Rotary Youth Exchange, an opportunity for around 8,000 students a year to learn about another culture. Unlike larger study abroad programs, this smaller program is sponsored by individual Rotary clubs, so it does not provide as many amenities, but it does offer students the chance to study in around 100 different countries.
In this program, students may live with multiple host families for up to an entire year while studying abroad.
The final destination will vary depending on the availability of host families, since the program allows students to select a list of top destinations or a general region.
In spite of the inability to choose exactly where you go, many students have posted positive reviews on the program’s website.
Students must contact a local Rotary club in order to apply for a Rotary Youth Exchange. Students are selected by those clubs based on qualities such as:
- Leadership experience in the school and community
- Respect for cultural differences and openness to them
- A willingness to try new things and a willingness to learn new things
- The ability to serve as an ambassador for the United States of America
Many of SPI’s high school study abroad programs have received excellent ratings from past students who have participated in them. In spite of the fact that the program has been around only since 1996, it has become an extremely popular choice for students, who have the option of studying in France, Spain, Costa Rica, Italy, or through a custom experience.
As part of the program, students will have the opportunity to participate in the following activities:
- In a total immersion homestay in a small local city, they will build their language skills while interacting with other members of the community
- Taking courses at a language institute or a university that offers foreign language courses
- During their stay in their host country, they will be involved in volunteer and community service activities
- With the help of a teacher guide, students can participate in special side trips or activities
In general, summer programs take place during the summer months, and the cost of the program is usually between $3,700 and $7,000, which does not include airfare or spending money.
Sol Education Abroad
The Sol Education Abroad program is consistently rated among the top companies on AbroadReviews.com, where students praise the company’s value, the quality of its host families, and its ability to create an incredible study abroad experience.
A study abroad program offered by the company can be found in four different countries: Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico, and Spain. In order to study abroad, students have the option to study during four different summer sessions, for an entire semester, or even for an entire academic year.
There are a variety of costs for the program, ranging from $3,000 for a two-week summer program to around $18,000 for a full-year program.
Sol Education Abroad offers students the opportunity to participate in a language assessment, which will help assess their knowledge of the language and help in placing them with a host family and school environment that will best suit their language needs during their stay abroad.
For students to qualify for the program, they must have a letter of recommendation, as well as a GPA that is in good standing. It is expected that once students have been accepted into the program and have traveled to their host country, they will have the opportunity to experience:
- The experience of living with a host family that has been carefully screened
- There are opportunities for group excursions to see the local sights in the area
- Opportunities for volunteering in the host country
- Activities that take place every week in the cultural field
- Participation in receptions with other participants in the program
Greenheart Travel offers study-abroad opportunities in 19 different countries around the world, including Australia, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and China, among others. In addition to being certified by the Council on Standards for International Education Travel (CSIET), the company has received positive reviews from past participants who have participated in their program.
Greenheart Travel requires that participants take the following steps in order to be eligible to participate in its programs:
- It is recommended that you have a GPA of at least 2.75
- Maintain a healthy physical and mental state of mind
- Interested in becoming a member of a host family and community in exchange for room and board
Additionally, the company also requires that those traveling to Argentina, Spain, France, and Japan have studied the language for at least two years before they are allowed to fly.
As part of your participation in one of Greenhart’s programs, you will also be able to meet your high school community service requirements through your membership in the Greenhart Club, which connects you to volunteer opportunities throughout the host country and in your home country.
Making the Most of Your Experience
If you are thinking about traveling abroad, it is a good idea to keep an open mind when searching for programs. Even though programs offering homestays in small towns may not seem as exciting as programs in large cities, they may offer a more authentic experience than programs in large cities because they offer homestays in smaller towns.
It is very important to know how safe you are going to be while you are overseas, as well as how much support they are going to give you so that you can have a successful experience.
Beyond that, whether the experience proves to be positive depends largely on your attitude and willingness to embrace your new environment.