Youth exchange programmes offer a rare opportunity for a person, generally in their late teens, to travel, study and live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. They live as a member of a family and learn through immersion about their host country’s culture. As importantly, they act as ambassadors for their own country. The key to a successful exchange lies largely with the teenager, but much rests too with his or her host family. Both parties need to be confident, well-adjusted and flexible in outlook. A thorough selection process is therefore vital in ensuring that the exchange is a fruitful experience for all concerned. This takes experience. Selecting a reputable and accredited Youth exchange programme is of paramount importance. Intermundo is the quality accreditation body for non-profit exchange organisations and it can advise on whether an organisation is of sufficiently good quality. Longevity of the organisation and non-profit orientation are good indicators. One of the first programmes, The AFS (formerly the American Field Service) was set up at the end of World War 1 by volunteer American ambulance drivers who wanted to improve international relations so as to avoid the repeat of such a catastrophe. And at the end of World War 2, Dr Rachel Andersen, established Youth for Understanding (YFU) to foster exchange and peace between the US and Germany. Subsequently, various other reputable organisations such as Rotary have set up their own programmes. The scope of these programmes has expanded hugely, and all now offer opportunities for the young to live abroad in dozens of countries around the world. This year, YFU in Switzerland wants to especially further the exchange with South Africa, Paraguay and Lithuania. To promote these new programmes, Jerry Krattiger, the National director told Le News that YFU is offering for each country a merit-based scholarship to one candidate who can demonstrate eminent suitability for the programme. YFU also offers means-based scholarships to suitable candidates for its other programmes. Nicole Rast at AFS confirmed that AFS also offers scholarships to those who cannot afford the full cost.
Timing is all important, so if you are considering an exchange programme for yourself or one of your teenagers, start researching now as applications need to be done well in advance and they take time to complete.
Costs of programmes differ between organisations and destinations, but taking a year-long programme in most countries outside Europe will cost about CHF 15,000.