Just imagine….you wake up in the morning, in a strange surrounding, people around you speak an unknown language, and you do not have a clue what it is all about. But you are a part of what is happening, and you understand that somehow you should find your role and fit in.
This is the kind of feeling young people have when they leave their home to go out for a long term student exchange to get to know another country and another culture. It is a very basic, deep down experience that changes people‘s lives. Complete strangeness and no understanding in the beginning will change into a comfortable fitting in after a few months, and end after one year in a deep understanding of the culture and people that were totally unknown in the beginning.
At the end of such a long term exchange experience they will be able to translate cultures, besides language. This tool will enable them to really understand other settings of values, priorities and patterns of other cultures.
Young people are ready for this experience when they are open minded, old and independent enough to survive in every day life without their home family and friends, and at the same time young enough to fit into a new family – a new setting with new rules, new priorities, new surroundings in a new culture. .
This deep understanding of other values and cultures is what is to be needed for global understanding and cooperation among different peoples. Youth exchanges and the tools learned during such experiences are something governments should encourage and support, for cooperation and mutual understanding. Many more opportunities should be offered to those you are interested – to create and foster global understanding. The ego-centered, one perspective view on the world will slowly be changed int o a bi-lateral and then multi-lateral perspective.
Youth exchange, long term, is needed more that ever before. Internet and global communication provide information from all over the world. But reading, hearing and seeing it is not enough to really understand! You have to me the people in their everyday life, their families, their routines, their needs, their worries and their happy moments.
A lot of resemarch has been done about this topic, such as the long term study: Students of four decades – ripple effects of quiet waters? A lot more research and publications can be found, done by Universität Regensburg, where the impact of youth exchanges in different settings, lengths of time and formats has been studies extensively.
American Field Service
Rotary Youth Exchange
Universität Regensburg, Interkultuelle Psychologie