The International Student Exchange’s secondary school student program brings over 2800 students to the U.S. every year. Academics and cultural immersion are the focus of the program, as well as improving diplomatic relations between different countries. Over the course of the last fifty years, the global efforts of the organizations that promote the program have literally brought hundreds of thousands of students and families together.
The visa issued by the U.S. Department of State that makes the program possible is the J-1 visa. This visa allows a student or an exchange visitor to come to the United States for a period of up to twelve months and study in a public school while living with a host family. Host families are volunteers, and they participate in the program simply for the experience and the opportunity to enrich their lives. When the students return home at the end of the program, they improve the diplomatic relations of the U.S. by telling their friends and family about their experience, spreading the word about the amazing year they have had.
The history of the J-1 visa goes back to 1961 and the institution of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act. Created by Senator J. William Fulbright, the act’s purpose was to increase understanding between people of different nations through the common goal of promoting education and cultural understanding. It consolidated many of the former laws already on the books which set up agreements with individual nations, and gave more freedom and resources to students and institutions that promoted and participated in the program.
What students and families should take away from this program is the idea of cooperation and understanding. Governments, students and families have continued to advance these programs for the last 60 years, and that has been no small undertaking. Issues of politics, conflict, economics, and ideals occasionally get in the way, but at this time there are more participants in exchange programs the world over than Fulbright might have ever imagined was possible. The success of the program is due to the fact that peoples of differing nations want to understand one another, and that human have an instinct to learn as much as they can.
The future of the exchange program is in the hands of the students, and that is exactly where it should be. As long as there are people who want to learn from one another, and bridge the boundaries that define nations, the effort to reach world peace through understanding still has a chance.