Once you have decided to go for the exchange student life, you need to decide if you should travel with an exchange organization. Some countries, like Japan, give you no choice. No exchange organization = no visa. I don’t know what guidelines most other countries have about this.
What is an exchange organization
Basically, an exchange organization is a travel agency. They organize your plane tickets, the place you stay and the activities you will participate in (i.e. school). The receiving exchange organization is supposed to function as a guardian. Ideally you will be placed in a safe area with a safe host family that, at least, pass the same requirements a foster home would. Schooling should be at an approved (by authorities) institution.
Types of exchange organizations?
There are three kinds of exchange organizations. Volunteer organizations like Rotary, AFS and YFU base their work on volunteers. Usually, there is a small regional office with permanent staff who earn average salaries.
Non-profit organizations can be a misleading term. Usually the term has to do with saving taxes. If the exchange organization has holding companies in links above it, you aren’t really looking at a non-profit organization but rather a company that utilizes what tax loop-holes there are. Exchange organizations like EF Education, Aspect Foundation, Explorius/Educatius/CETUSA, Forte International Exchange Association/Astar Education, and Heltberg International Education all have holding companies controlling them.
For-profit exchange organizations are open about being in the business of making money. I do not know if their representatives get paid more than the non-profit ones (price per student placed) do. In the US, for-profit firms fall into the F-1 student exchange programs category.
Communication between various parties
In a student exchange situation there are several parties involved. You have parents of the exchange student, the exchange student, exchange organization in the home country, main office in host-country, host-country local representative, host-country school, host-family.
When you sign a contract with your exchange organization at home, you usually authorize them to function as a go-between for you and the partner organization. Most contracts forbid contact between parents and partner organization. In addition, the exchange companies seldom want you to have contact with your child’s school. Nor do they encourage contact with the host-family.
Your child is supposed to communicate with their local representative who is then supposed to bring the matter up the chain until the information eventually reaches the parents. The host-family is supposed to use the same route. However, our experience has been that what the parents are told is not always what the partner organization was told by either student, school or host-parent. We encourage contact between parents and their child, parents and the host parents and in crisis between parents and the school. We also encourage you to keep all contacts documented (emails, sms, recordings of phone calls etc.). Just in case.
Home country exchange organization
Most exchange organizations use the following procedure:
- After the potential exchange student fills out application 1, the exchange organization makes its choice. Rotary require better grades than the rest.
- Organization, student and her/his family meet.
- Application part 2 is filled in by parents and student and signed by them.
- All necessary documentation is collected by the company and forwarded to their partner organization in the host country.
- Have information meeting.
- Be a point of contact between biological parents and partner.
The Partner organization in the host country is supposed to
- Train leaders and representatives.
- Match representative and exchange student.
- Match exchange student and host family.
- Make sure ALL necessary documentation regarding host-family, representative and school has been forwarded to the proper authorities.
- Make travel arrangements to and from host country.
- Some hold orientations camps.
- Be responsible for all host-country trips.
- «Be there» for the student 24/7.
- Support school leadership.
- Ensure the student is safe during emergencies.
- Return students who break the laws of the host country.