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Cultural Exchange Programs

Every year, thousands of young people take advantage of volunteer, internship and work abroad opportunities offered through established Cultural Exchange programs. 

Cultural exchange programs were originally developed in the U.S. over 40 years ago by the U.S. State Department in an effort to increase international cultural awareness, and foster cooperation between nations. These types of programs allow participants to live and work in another country, giving them a deeper connection to the native lifestyle, language and culture, and offering a more meaningful and rewarding travel experience. 

Cultural exchange programs are perfect for young and adventurous travelers who want to spend a longer amount of time in one country, and participate in the culture, not just pass through as a tourist. Many cultural exchange programs offer homestays, where a local family will welcome you into their home, and provide room and board, as you “live like a local” for a specific period of time. Some programs also offer dormitory or hostel-style living arrangements where you have many opportunities to socialize and learn from other cultural exchange participants.

Choosing a Cultural Exchange Program:

There are many options to choose from, but there are some differences you should keep in mind when choosing a cultural exchange program:

  • Language School Programs - Some organizations include several weeks of intensive language school classes before beginning your work or volunteer assignment. This is a great way to get acclimated to a new country, make new friends right away, and kick off your cultural exchange experience.
  • Excursions – Look for organizations that include cultural learning opportunities, excursions and activities in their program fees. Many also include a tour guide, transportation and a meal for daily excursions.
  • Job or Volunteer Work Placements – Find an organization that will match you with a work assignment that fits your interests. Some cultural exchange placements can be customized to further your specific career or personal goals.
  • Support Networks – Look for reputable agencies that can offer 24-hour support and in-country emergency assistance during your program term. As an added level of safety, be sure to purchase personal accident and sickness insurance for any unforeseen emergencies.

How Cultural Exchange Programs Work:

  1. Travelers apply to a program in a country that interests them. Cultural Exchange organizations such as InterExchange  (www.interexchange.org) offer a variety of established Volunteering, Internship, Work & Travel, Au Pair Abroad and Camp Worker programs in Africa, Australia, Europe, East Asia, South America and the United States.
  2. Check to be sure that you fit the eligibility requirements for the program you’re interested in. Some programs have an age range or specific requirements to obtain a work visa for the chosen country.
  3. Speak to a program representative, and ask questions! These programs are dedicated to making sure it’s a positive and rewarding experience for you. 
  4. Allow enough time before your desired travel date to allow visa paperwork to be processed, and travel arrangements to be made. Because embassy review times vary, applying to the program at least 2 months prior to your desired start date is recommended.
  5. The organization you work with will “sponsor” you while you are in a foreign country, and provide you with local contact information for their partner agency in that country.   Often, they will conduct an in-country orientation to help acclimate travelers to the language and customs of that country. They will also answer any questions you have about your visa or the program rules, give you tips on how to avoid “culture shock”, and can often offer discounts and excursions that are only available to program participants.