Embracing Cultural Diversity: The Importance of Welcoming Exchange Students in American High Schools

STS Foundation President, Gwen McNallan, and other representatives from various cultural exchange programs met with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) this past week to discover ways the DOE can provide their support and encouragement to engage more American schools to welcome cultural exchange students. The meeting with Bernadine Futrell, Ph.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Discretionary Grants & Support Services, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) was a positive first step in this collaborative endeavor.

During International Education Week 2023, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona emphasized the need to “raise the bar and give all of our students the opportunity to gain the multilingual skills and cultural competencies that will help them compete and shape bright futures.” This statement underscores the pivotal role of cultural exchange programs in fostering a comprehensive educational experience.

(L-R): Marcelle Benedicta – VP at Greenheart International, Gwen McNallan – President of STS Foundation, Bernadine Futrell, Ph.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Discretionary Grants & Support Services, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Tara Hofmann – CEO and President at AFS-USA, Keri Dooley – Executive VP at AFS-USA, and Marcel A. Maebara – CFO at ISE

The Value of Cultural Exchange in Education

When international exchange students join American classrooms, they bring a wealth of unique cultural backgrounds, traditions, and perspectives. This diversity serves as a valuable resource, enriching the learning experience for both exchange students and their American peers. It goes beyond mere academic enrichment; it is about cultivating a global perspective.

Through firsthand interactions with peers from different parts of the world, students gain a deeper appreciation for various cultures. This exposure is instrumental in fostering empathy, understanding, and respect for diversity. Such experiences are crucial in today’s interconnected world, where cultural sensitivity and global awareness are indispensable skills for young Americans to have in a globally competitive environment.

American students stand to benefit significantly from interacting with their international counterparts. These interactions provide an opportunity for American students to learn about different cultures, languages, and worldviews within their classrooms. This not only broadens their horizons but also prepares them for future roles in a globalized workforce.

Overcoming Challenges

The decline in the number of schools open to hosting exchange students over the past 10 years poses a challenge not only for the high school exchange industry but also for the enrichment of school communities. Educational leaders and policymakers need to work collaboratively to overcome perceived barriers. Providing adequate support and resources to schools, raising awareness about the benefits of cultural exchange, and encouraging a welcoming attitude towards international students are key steps in this direction.

The Road Ahead or as U.S. Secretary Cardona’s initiative states, to Raise the Bar in Education

The inclusion of exchange students in American high schools offers immeasurable benefits. It prepares American students for a global future, promotes mutual understanding, and lays the groundwork for a more inclusive and interconnected society. As educators and leaders, it is our collective responsibility to embrace this opportunity and ensure that our schools remain vibrant places for cultural exchange and learning.

The meeting between STS Foundation, other high school program sponsors, and the Department of Education is a promising start. When we all work together – schools, communities, and policymakers – we will succeed in creating an environment where cultural exchange is not just welcomed but is seen as an integral part of the educational experience.

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Embracing Cultural Diversity: The Importance of Welcoming Exchange Students in American High Schools

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