Under foreign skies

You are in a very strange place: the weather is odd, the language just a jumble of weird sounds and the food almost inedible.

If all this does not bother you, then you are the right person to apply for an overseas learner-exchange programme.

These are programmes that allows learners to expand their world by not only visiting foreign countries but living within a new environment. It is an opportunity to experience other social norms and foreign tongues – which are not usually as frightening as they may first appear – and to meet new people.

The programmes are run to encourage international understanding and goodwill, ‘are intended as a cultural exchange for young people and not specifically to provide educational opportunities,” says Clive Raaff, chairman of the Rotary Youth Exchange Programme.

Although organisations have different requirements and programmes, there are generally two types of exchange programmes: the longer- term version that usually lasts for 12 months and requires learners to attend school; and short-term programmes that usually last for two months and generally take place during school holidays.

To enable learning through experience, exchange learners are placed in a family within the community. A host family – a family willing to share their lives with a young person from another country without any payment for their hospitality – acts as the learner’s guardians for the duration of their stay. Other than providing accommodation and meals, the host family is expected to give the same moral support, comfort and affection as they would to other members of their family. Janine Palmer, the sending coordinator at the American Field Service – one of the organisations involved with learner-exchange programmes -calls them ‘very special people who open their homes to share their way of life with a foreign student”.

The organisations use different criteria to select a host family. The selection process usually includes interviews and home visits to determine if the basic requirements of providing shelter, bed, food and support can be met. Some may require that a host family has children the same age as the exchange learner, while some insist there is a separate bedroom.

Learners are, however, warned that they will not necessarily be placed in a living environment identical to their own.

Host families are not always able to take exchange learners for tours; these are arranged by organisations to enable exchange learners to visit other parts of the country and to network with other exchange learners.

Like everything else in life, all this comes at a price. Learners should expect to pay no less than R10 000 for a short-term experience and R14 000 for a long-term programme, although this varies. This covers international and domestic travel costs to and from your destination, pre-departure orientation, support from staff in the host country and, in some cases, school fees and medical insurance. Learners’ families are responsible for pocket money and travel requirements like a visa.


Although some organisations offer scholarships, they are very limited and do not cover all costs. Learners should be between 14 and 18 years of age to qualify, and be physically and mentally in good health. Some organisations also require the student to achieve an average of 60% academically.

Applications should be forwarded well in advance and payments made at least six months in advance. Applicants undergo a screening process.

For more information contact the following organisations:

American Field Service:

P.O. Box 31784, Braamfontein 2017,

South Africa

Tel: (011) 339-2741, Fax: (011) 339-2742

e-mail: [email protected]

Rotary Youth Exchange:

contact your local Rotary club,

or go to www.youthexsa.org.za

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Suzan Chala
Suzan Chala works from Jhb, Gauteng, SA. Editor of Sowetan Education, MSK and Matric Q&A. Former journalist: M&G. Love life and all its ups and downs
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