When I think of international exchange programs and the Jesuit network of schools, I think opportunity. Opportunity to explore, opportunity to go far beyond your comfort zone, and opportunity to meet people, see places, and do things that you never imagined you would do in your life – opportunity to truly experience the world!
Recently, 75 members of Educate Magis joined the group International Exchange Programs, and I would guess, all are seeking an opportunity. Folks have conversed about timing of trips, potential partner schools, and the idea of exploring different cities and cultures around the world. From my perspective, there is no better way for an adolescent, or an adult for that matter, to embrace all the world has to offer than by participating in a global exchange program. Our network of Jesuit schools provides this opportunity like no other!
This blog aims to share some of our experiences through the Hyde Center for Global Education as a way to help other schools navigate the exciting challenges and opportunities that come with international exchange programs. There is certainly more than one approach for success – this is by no means a definitive road map – just one set of ideas and perspectives that might help your thought process as you begin this exciting journey. We will publish a blog post once a month and we of course welcome your contributions along the way!
Finding the right way to begin an exchange program often holds schools up the most, and at times keeps them stuck in their tracks. Where do we even begin? What should we be thinking about? What pitfalls should we avoid? The world awaits – it’s time to get beyond these barriers! From our experience in the Hyde Center, here are ten items to consider when planning an International Exchange Program…
- Creating a Transformational Experience – When we first began building international exchange programs, I was given incredible advice; “make sure that everything you do keeps the student experience at the core and heart of your efforts.” If, from the beginning, we remember that we are trying to create life-changing opportunities for students, it almost guarantees that their experience abroad will be totally transformational – what more can you ask for?
- Administrative support – Building global partnerships is fun, exciting, rewarding, and a host of other positive descriptors, but it is next to impossible without administrative support. The liability involved alone indicates you need support from the top, from the beginning. Spend the time getting this support – and be persistent – before moving on!
- Leadership – If your school has not yet identified someone to take a leadership role in building global connections, start now! Having global efforts consolidated or streamlined through one office or person can actually help unify and propel the effort. If you’re reading this blog, maybe it should be you!
- Find a Partner – This is where the fun starts! With hundreds and hundreds of Jesuit schools in our global network – I would say you have a pretty good starting point! You will soon see that creating a partnership with another Jesuit school brings with it a sense of comfort and safety that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re already reading this blog on Educate Magis, why not start here? (You’ll see Theme is down at the bottom of the list, but if you’re thinking of a language based program, this will certainly help you to determine which schools might be appropriate!)
- Building Relationships – Once you’re ready to go, I would suggest the number one ingredient to a successful exchange program is to spend all the time and energy you can building relationships with your potential partner school – you can’t begin to count the ways in which this will help in the long run – not to mention the personal rewards that almost automatically come along with the process.
- Timing – Because our Jesuit schools operate on different calendars, schedules and seasons around the world, it is important to be sure both schools have a sense of what time of year an exchange would work. Even with everyone’s best intentions and efforts, not finding the right timing for both schools can be a tough obstacle to overcome. Once you’ve built the relationship, address this one early on.
- Exploratory Trips – While an adult visit to a potential partner school before sending students can be expensive, there is no better way to make an initial investment. You will be paid back ten times over when you offer a program that you know was created on the incredible trust built, personal knowledge gained and friendships made during exploratory trips. Plus, as you describe the program to parents, your credibility goes through the roof if you’ve “been there, done that.” (Don’t underestimate exploratory programs as a tremendous professional development and personal growth opportunity for the adults involved!)
- Mutually Beneficial – With countries, customs and cultures so different around the world, it is perhaps not safe to assume that everyone wants the same outcome from an exchange program. I would suggest the basic starting point here is to enter the conversation from the vantage point that the relationship created should benefit both schools equally. What that looks like depends on the needs and desires from both schools, but from the beginning, both should feel like they will learn and grow from the experience.
- Host Family Experience – When BC High students travel abroad, and when visiting students come to BC High, 99 percent of the time they identify the host family stay as the highlight of their entire experience! There is no better way to embrace everything a country has to offer than by living with a host family. If you can, ensure this is part of your plans!
- Theme – While it is tempting to jump right to the theme of a program – and this certainly will become very important – I would say it appropriately falls toward the bottom of this list. In fact, I would say a simple desire to collaborate for the benefit of students is a good enough theme to start with – the relationship building, leadership, timing, etc. will likely guide you to an appropriate theme anyway. Don’t be afraid to let an organic process lead the way at times!
- Cost – While no one likes to talk about cost, it can’t be avoided and should be discussed from the beginning! How will the trip be funded? Does money exchange hands between schools? Has financial aid been considered? Are the parameters we are creating equal for both schools? All of these questions and more should be considered early and often. Discussing finances from the beginning can be uncomfortable, but it’s totally appropriate – doing it later almost guarantees it will be far more difficult!
OK, so that’s eleven, and there is much more to consider: How many students should participate? What ratios do we need? How do students and families connect ahead of the exchange? How do we prepare students? As we continue this blog, we will try to answer some of these questions, and revisit some of the key elements discussed today.
Please share your experiences and tell us what questions you have in the conversation section below!
Dan Carmody is Executive Director at the Hyde Center for Global Education at Boston College High School and Global Initiatives Assistant for the Secretariat for Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education of the Society of Jesus
Other articles in this series: