It's a question that we hear all the time from Trip Leaders.
"We want to start a relationship with another school in ____, but are not sure how to start."
And on top of that, exchanges fizzle out all the time. It's common for a school to engage with another school in another country, sign a memorandum of understanding, and for administration to expect POOF--we now have an exchange relationship that will be successful. But it's not that easy.
Hard Fact: 65% of the world's study abroad is still inbound to the United States. This means, that there will always be more students wanted to come to the United States as opposed to go abroad. This tips supply and demand in a way where it's common to have schools abroad clamoring over the idea of starting a relationship with your school. On the flip-side, it may be difficult for you to convince your parents to let your students.
So, it's important to be selective in your approach for school to partner with. We've gathered a few important elements to consider as you being your journey to an exchange relationship abroad for your students:
#1 - It Starts in YOUR Classroom
How are you grooming your students to understand the world, and their future global endeavors at an early age? A "trip" is an activity that a family will go on in the summer, and can be brought to the attention of a child merely months or weeks before departing. An "international program" is a curricular experience that requires the student and the student's family to be prepared for well in advance, and envision this as a part of their education. We at Our Human Family just had an amazing podcast episode on this topic of "Classroom to Cultural Exchange" with Lyn Cagle at the O'Neal School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. If you're interested in learning from her decades of experience in language program development as well as exchange development, please give it a listen.
#2 - Look for Value Alignment in Your Partner
As you do with your spouse, it's important to identify an exchange partner that instills the same set of values that your school does with your students. This is extremely important because the basis of the exchange will be the curricular foundation and engagement with family life. For example, if you're a school in the United States that has a particular focus on sustainability, it would be wise to seek out a school in your desired country with the same set of values! That way, it will easier to construct projects for both schools to engage in where rapport building naturally develops. Trip leaders need to look at their exchange trip leaders as colleagues, and students should look at their exchange students as one in the same.
#3 - Keep Selling to Your Parent Population the Benefits
A great exchange can die if trip leaders/educators (you) aren't willing to be proactive about setting up a continuity plan for projects between the schools. Then, the exchange will merely turn into a "trip" rather an an educational "international program". In every opportunity on and off campus, trip leaders should be selling the benefits of the experience to parents and students even in their early ages. Remember, you're grooming them for this experience when they hit middle or high school, so starting the conversation early is important. Also, due the nature of rising tuition rates at most schools, it's harder than ever to get consistent registration numbers for groups from the USA to travel abroad. This is not something where you can afford to just put out an itinerary and let it sell itself. The value is the in the relationship with the school abroad, and in the joint projects that are conducted.
If you want to learn more about the process of identifying exchange partners abroad, or are perhaps interested in creating an experience for your group, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!