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The International Exchange Student Experiences of High
School-aged People of the Rotary Club Program in Canada
Eduardo Guadalupe
University of Windsor, 2018
Introduction
Although the social and economic importance of the international exchange student programs for
high-school-age people may seem of concern to only a small group of people, in fact, it should
concern anyone who cares about education and international understanding. Therefore, I want to
highlight the relevant importance of this subject for the epistemology of social science by
understanding the high-school-aged students' experience, motivation factors, barriers and the
perception of gains. Regarding the education, I intend that the results of this research will serve
to enlarge the comprehension of some cognitive mechanism on high-school-aged students during
an international exchange student experience.
The structure of this work was conceptualized in a way to facilitate the analysis of the
main points that impact on the international exchange high-school-aged students experiences.
Among other things, it will overview the seven main items commonly attributed to exchange
students programs: (i) motivation to engage the life abroad; (ii) validation of the conditions; (iii)
most possible difficulties; (iv) perceptions of the host country; (v) evaluation of the international
experience; (vi) perceived effects of the exchange experience; (viii) educational directions and
professional careers.
Understanding the magnitude of international education
According to Rizvi (2005), “in a significant way, international education is an expression of
consumerist logic, which views education as a commodity, available internationally only to those
who have aligned themselves already to the emerging economic and cultural contours of
globalization”. Bauman (1998) corroborates presenting international mobility as something
mostly available to the elite. This merchandising view of international education falls into the
ambiguous perspective of education as a product or as an ideological process of development.
I firmly believe in international education as a tool for changing the world. For me, one
of the best definitions of international education comes from Cambrige & Thompson (2004)
when they present it under the perspective of the educational philosophy of Kurt Hahn, the
founder of Schule Schloss Salem, Germany, and Gordonstoun School, Scotland, who inspired
Outward Bound and the United World Colleges movement. The authors say: “international
education may be viewed as a means of changing the world by increasing international
understanding through bringing together young people from many different countries”.
For several observers, it is clear that the presence of foreigner students contributes to a
better academic environment. According to Council of Ontario Universities (n.d.), international
students contribute significantly to excellence in education and research, bringing a diversity of
perspectives, experiences, and languages that enhance the academic experience for all students.
However, it is undeniable the economic impact of international education when it is viewed
through the global movement of students around the world.
The presence of international students in some countries is quite expressive and
significantly essential to maintain the formal educational structure. The world distribution of the
international students hosting destination shows Canada as the sixth largest population of
international students, taking into consideration all academic levels. In 2017, Canada had more
than 300 thousand international students (Statista, 2018).
From 2010 to 2016, the number of international students in Canada has increased on
average 7% per year. This expansion was even more expressive from 2016 to 2017, achieving a
growth rate of 18% (Statista, 2018). Therefore, in the recent years, Canada has become more
attractive for international students, and for consequence, it has incremented the impact of
international students in the Canadian society and economy.
The economic impact of international education in Canada is well identified in the
executive summary provided by Global Affairs Canada (2017), where it estimated that in 2015
and 2016 respectively, international students in Canada spent around $12.8 billion and $15.5
billion on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending.
When numbers of international students in Canada are stratified according to the
academic level, it shows two dominant historical representation: University and Secondary or
less, with the respective share of 52% and 19.6% (Kunin, 2012).
Although the group of Secondary or less, composed of high-school-aged students,
represents almost a fifth of the international student in Canada, it has not been received the
proper attention from scholars' research. There is very little literature that talks about
international education programs for high-school-aged students, what can be a substantial gap to
be filled.
Understanding the concept of the international exchange student program
The international exchange student program, it is a process based on a prior agreement between
two parts, which could be countries or organizations, where a student from one of the parts goes
to attend school in a foreign country, and some other student from that destination country comes
to study in the country of the first part. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that most of the
academic work about international student does not take into consideration the fact of existing a
physical exchange process between two organizations or countries. The exchange concept
usually is limited to the interaction between foreigner student and host environment.
Back in 1985, I had the opportunity of being a Rotary Club international exchange
student from Brazil living for one year in Traverse City, Michigan, USA. Therefore, I have a
personal experience about the program that had a significant impact in my academic,
professional and personal life.
Because of the impact that my international experience had in my life, I decided to get a
holistic understanding about the high-school-aged students' perception of living abroad to
identify a possible mechanism to replicate the same or similar experience in a more democratic
way to adolescents in a less favorable social and economic situation. I believe that this work will
reverberate with a dynamical proportion in the Canadian society and through other fields of
social science.
Given the above elucidation of facts, I would like to propose the following research
question: How do the processes of international cultural exchange experience by the Rotary Club
high-school-aged students from other countries living in Canada is perceived?
Critical conceptual framework
From my point of view, the main philosophical concept of this work is based on Paulo Freire’s
book, Education for Critical Consciousness:
“Só podíamos compreender uma educação que fizesse do homem um ser cada
vez mais consciente de sua transitividade, que deve ser usada tanto quanto
possível criticamente, ou com acento cada vez maior de racionalidade.
A própria essência da democracia envolve uma nota fundamental, que lhe é
intrínseca — a mudança. Os regimes democráticos se nutrem na verdade de
termos em mudança constante. São flexíveis, inquietos, devido a isso mesmo,
deve corresponder ao homem desses regimes, maior flexibilidade de
consciência”. (Freire,
1967, p.90)
Freire (1967) argues that the education must transform a person in a being with a constant
increase of conscious about his/her transitivity; which must be used as much as possible
critically, or with an increasing emphasis on rationality.
Freire (1967) continuous saying that the essence of democracy involves a fundamental
concept, which is intrinsic to it – the change. Democratic regimes nourish themselves in the truth
of continually changing. They are flexible and restless; thus the people that are part of it must
have greater flexibility of conscience.
Based on my previous experience and the scarce literature on student international
exchange program, I believe that the experience of studying abroad creates the necessary
changing condition to the young minds to increase their perception of transitivity, critical
thinking, and flexibility of consciousness. Therefore, the above-mentioned program is a valuable
educational tool to maintain and instigate democratic systems. To facilitate the understanding, I
will define an international exchange student program, its dimension and potential impact on the
high-school-age students.
The Rotary Club exchange student program
The Rotary Club is a global organization that, among other things, defines its mission as building
goodwill and peace in the world. Rotary Club (n.d.) recognizes itself as a global network of 1.2
million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and
take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.
It initiated its first international exchange program in 1927. The model of its exchange
program has fundamental differences from the regular commercial exchange student programs.
Besides the fact that it does not have a profit goal, the sponsor Rotary Club assumes part of the
visitor student's expenses, and during one year the host Rotary unit places the student with three
different families so that the student can get a more diversified vision of the host community.
Also, the host unit also assumes the responsibility for ensuring that their participants enjoy a
culturally rich experience.
High School-aged People – the public under analyze
It does not matter what part of the world, high-school-aged people usually are identified with
some similar social and behavioral problems. The high school exchange student program usually
takes young people with the range in age from 14 to 19-year-old, and they usually share other
common characteristics that go beyond the age factor.
At this stage in life, the high-school-aged are categorized as adolescents, and they are
introduced to some new behaviors and social and health risks. For Galambos & Tilton-Weaver
(1998), youth is a time for experimentation, even -- and maybe especially -- if the activities
involve an element of risk. A sense of invincibility, combined with bravado, may increase the
appeal of behavior that is frowned upon by older adults. Risk behaviors, which generally first
emerge during adolescence, have important implications for individual psychological and
physical health, both in the short- and long-term. Because these activities entail substantial
economic and social costs to the health and well-being of individuals and society, it is important
to understand on the concept of international exchange student program the level of the extent of
young people's involvement in them.
Although Galambos & Tilton-Weaver (1998) identify several different risks, the Rotary
Club take into consideration four of them with a major impact in their program. Here, I
summarize as drinking, drugs, dating, and driving. While the public's concerns are perhaps
exaggerated about the risks for high-school-aged population, they are not unfounded. According
to Bostrom (2001), too many American teens are engaged in dangerous behavior: close to half of
15 to17-year-old have had sex; one-fifth see drugs, alcohol and teen pregnancy as a very serious
problem for their close circle of friends. Of course, problems may vary from different countries,
cultures, etc.
According to Bostrom (2001), these high-school-aged people are in a stage of life where
they believe they are invincible and are starting to make their own decisions regarding social and
economic matters. It can be a rebellious time, many times questioning their parents and
traditional rules and restrictions. On the other hand, Bostrom argues that high-school-aged
people and their parents suggest a very different picture of their personal experiences. They
report strong teenager-parent relationships built on a solid foundation of parental involvement
and guidance. Most high-school-aged people say they highly value honesty and hard work and
are engaged in positive activities such as church and volunteer work. The biggest stresses most
of them feel are the pressures to do well in school and get into college.
The combination of the characteristics of typical high-school-aged people with the
challenges of adapting to a new country far from their home families often produces additional
pressure and stress for high-school-aged exchange participants. This may be the first time that
these individuals have been so far away from home for so long. Even though one of the
purposes of an exchange student is to experience personal development, it is not always easy to
experience so many changes at once. They may not react well to the new food or living in
homes with different routines, rules, and levels; even religious differences may cause some
serious discomfort on the adaptation process. The level of discipline imposed by the host
families may be significantly different from their homes – either stricter or laxer – than what they
are accustomed in their own families. They may also struggle academically or find difficult to
make friends in their new schools. Such challenges and changes may result in conflict and
tension between students and host families (US Department of State, 2007).
Motivation to engage the life abroad
According to Endes (2014), in the past, a high school diploma was enough to find a job;
however, nowadays, the world's configuration imposes a new reality that even university
diploma sometimes is not enough to find a good professional opportunity. Indeed, the job market
demands more and more differentiated skills and life experiences from the young people entering
in the profession competition. In the other hand, it is possible to say that even with all the
changes in the world and the global society, the reasons that motivate young students to
participate of cultural exchange programs have remained unchanged, it is still seen as an
"adventure" of idealistic adolescents (Sebben, 2001).
However, every student has its own reality and motivation process to induct
himself/herself to embrace a "solo" challenge abroad. It is true that most of the young people
want to try new things and explore neoteric possibilities of life. For most of them, the decision to
participate in an exchange program was primarily their own idea. Parents and teachers were also
an influential factor in their decisions.
Bachnera & Zeutschelb (2009) affirm that the most important reasons for becoming an
international exchange student were a desire for increased independence, a sense of
adventure/desire to travel, enhanced intercultural understanding, greater foreign language
proficiency, the honor of being an exchange and an increased sense of uniqueness. The authors
also identified some motivation process established to avoid certain difficulties at home (e.g.,
school and family problems; breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend). It follows, then what the
authors suggest this so-called "escape orientation" was also identified as the single most
important negative predictor of program success, and thus should be given special attention in
participant selection and on-program counseling.
Before step abroad – validation of the conditions
Given the nature of today's international high school exchange paradigm, careful screening of
both students and host families, followed by deliberate and thoughtful matching of the students
and families, are the first steps toward insuring a successful exchange experience. Sponsors
must also have properly trained staff or volunteers to monitor the exchanges and prevent or
properly manage "issues" on an on-going basis (US Department of State, 2007).
Another important factor to be considered is the student academic background. To
attempt to high school program, the students must have completed no more than 12 years of
school or equivalent. To attend classes in the host school, it is strongly recommended that the
student arrives at least with a basic notion of the spoken language of the destination country. The
Rotary Club exchange program also analysis the academic success of the student in his home
country. The program starts from the premise that struggled with academics in their native
languages and countries will be even more challenged when the classes are conducted in the host
country. However, this logic is not taken into consideration by most of the commercial exchange
student programs.
The program also verifies the level of maturity of the student, what may not be easy to
judge, but it is a critical factor. To help with this process, the Rotary Club promotes several
meetings and events where the candidates to its international exchange student program have to
participate, so they are observed and judged by their home country Rotary unit, as part of their
selection process. All this mechanism is to avoid what Pereira (2015) categorized as a tendency
to experience difficulty in the adaptation process.
Although the screening process for students may see hard, it is just half of the whole
procedure. The host family also needs to be ready to receive the visitor student. First and
foremost, among the program's concerns are the health, safety, and welfare of all secondary
school exchange participants. Their youth and inexperience give rise to situations in which
sponsors, and host families must be particularly sensitive to their vulnerabilities. The host family
also must provide a healthy and safe conditions to receive the student and be financially
prepared. For Bachnera & Zeutschelb (2009) a close, positive relationship with the host family is
one of the most important facts that determine the successful exchange experience.
Most possible difficulties
The insertion of a young mind in a completely new reality may suggest a high possibility of
adaptation difficulties. According to Monteiro (2012), the most common problem is the cultural
integration, followed by the gastronomy adaptation, financial limitation, and homesickness.
Bachnera & Zeutschelb (2009), corroborate saying that there is a moderate-to-high tendency of
exchange students living abroad to experience homesickness, loneliness, inadequate host
language ability, inability to make friends, cultural ‘blunders' and prejudices by host country
nationals. However, most of these problems are a natural process of adaptation that can be
dismissed with social integration. The exchange student program provides to the exchange
student a live experience of international interdependence, that has given rise to new concerns of
internationalization, demanding enhanced knowledge and capabilities as well as authentic
empathy and solidarity to acknowledge the variability in human beings and their communities,
helping the integration of different culture into the host environment (Johnson, Heo, Reich,
Leppisaari, & Lee, 2015). What the literature suggests as a mechanism of reducing the probable
difficulties to happen is the natural integration process based on the assimilation of the
differences between cultures from both sides host community and visitor student.
Perceptions of the host country
It is interesting to have a perception of a country looking at it from the outside and then later on
from an insider perspective. The perception about the reality may have significate changes that
vary from good to bad, depending on the subject under scrutiny. Howbeit, the students'
perception will also be determinate by idiosyncratic bias. The student background may introduce
some key elements to determinate the analysis factor.
From an outsider's perception, it is no exaggeration to say that images and stereotypes are
an intrinsic element of international relations (Eide, 1970). For Lima (2007), the stereotypes are
shorthand descriptions of a whole group, being commonly acquired in quotidian life, via
textbooks, films, music or television programmes. Therefore, when it is hear the words
"American" or "British", or "French", "Chinese", "Brazilian" or any other that refers to a
nationality, for example, a whole set of mis/conceptions come to our minds and, most of the
times, we are able to describe those groups of people in a single sentence, introduced by indirect
ways. The author explains that besides being transmitted by indirect ways, images are also
formed via direct contact between nationals of different countries and that has attributed a central
role to international educational exchanges as far as the reduction of misconception between
states is concerned. Indeed, exchange programmes are deemed to be the most successful way of
developing a three-dimensional image of the host country, which talks on its own about its
ideals, core values, and beliefs when it is experienced firsthand by the international student. This
would lead, among other things, to a more comprehensive and unprejudiced perception of the
host country's economic, political and social dynamics (Potter, 2002: 4, in Lima 2007).
Bachnera & Zeutschelb (2009) demonstrate that the evaluation of the exchange
experience is more closely linked to liking or disliking the host country as a nation rather than to
regard or liking of individual members of the host country. In addition, some national political
and social issues can be factors of influence of the student's perception.
So how can perceptions about the host country and its people be the same, yet different,
compared to one's insights about the home country and "my people"? Perhaps this difference is,
more than anything, about the unexpected lack of familiarity and certainty; about
disconnectedness between "me" and "them" - not about deciding what is the "same" against what
is "different" or vice versa, as one approaches fundamental understanding of diverse diversities
(Dervin, 2010).
Overall evaluation of the international experience
All my interaction with participants in an international exchange student program demonstrated
that they rated the exchange experience positively. Bachnera & Zeutschelb (2009) explains that
the rate is based in several aspects, included: student–host family relations; broadening of
viewpoint; contacts and friendships; immersion, acceptance, and adaptation during the exchange;
and personal growth and maturation. According to the authors, the perception of satisfaction may
vary according to the programs of varying length - academic year program, two-month Summer
program, four-week chorale tour.
On the other hand, Sebben (2001) observes that under the aspect of the psychology
perception of the individual satisfaction, exchange students face some crucial moments during
their path to their integration in the host culture, that affect the overall evaluation about their
experience abroad. The author explains that according to the theories that explain the dynamics
of adaptation, the first moments are difficult; however, they serve to increase the overall
commitment with the student's new reality that gradually goes through a more optimistic stage
and finally gets to a later phase of great satisfactory balance. Confirming once again "the
enriching and gratifying legacy of international stays on the final integration between student and
host culture. It serves to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment.
According to Lima (2007), in an international educational exchange program, the
perception of the quality of the program changes proportionally to the exchange students'
interpersonal interaction with the host people. A great number of participants may return with
friendlier attitudes towards the host country, but not everyone does. This could be so because of
different experiences, the quality, and depth of contacts with other people and the level of
satisfaction with the host educational institution.
Notwithstanding, there are two dimensions that must be analyzed, the satisfaction of the
living experience itself and the satisfaction with the gains of knowledge introduced through the
international experience (Meneghetti, 2015). In other words, the perception about the process
itself is not necessarily the same as the destination (country, city, host family), although there is a
direct link between both.
Perceived effects of the exchange experience
Personal changes and growth cannot be easily observed and explicitly. However, an unfamiliar
context in a different culture can significantly affect the personal growth of exchange students, as
well as enhance their intercultural and global understanding (Johnson, Heo, Reich, Leppisaari, &
Lee, 2015)
This category set of analysis has a strong correlation with the initial perception of the
program. Bachnera & Zeutschelb (2009) identified that the exchange experience was valuable in
the sense that the students acquired abilities or traits that were subsequently useful to them. This
attribution applied overall, as well as by nationality, a decade of exchange, gender, duration of
exchange and type of scholarship support. Lima (2007) presents the exchange student experience
as having positive implications for international peace and cooperation.
From Lima's (2007) perspective, global education focuses on the student's personal
growth about their intercultural skills, attitudes, and identities. Global education is about more
than obtaining knowledge and skills; it takes a holistic approach where intellectual growth
combines with emotional and interpersonal understanding and provides the continuity and
interaction of educative experience (Dewey 1938, in Johnson, Heo, Reich, Leppisaari, & Lee,
2015). The accumulation of practical and theoretical professional knowledge with increasing
diversity, sophistication and depth is certainly one of the great affordances of study abroad to
enhance global minds.
Educational directions and professional careers
Although the age of the participants of a high school exchange program indicate most of the time
the students do not have enough maturity to take professional choices, the fact that the exchange
program contributes to the process of maturing the young minds, it will help them to have a
better perspective of career decisions. However, Lowe, Krahn, & Bowlby (1997) recommended
further research to identify key supports and barriers to high school students' educational and
career goals.
Conclusion
The upshot of all this is that students of high school-aged who experience an international
exchange program relativize their habits, perspective of the world and concepts. Through the
analyses of social interactions between visitor students and the host community, academics
identified some critical aspects of the success for the program and how the student's integration
provides a significant contribution for students to develop a positive perception about their
overall international exchange experience.
In addition, it is also notorious that the exchange student program goes beyond the simple
fact of changing the environment for high-school-aged students; it infers a new way of learning.
Indeed, it favored important reflections on the awareness of the transformations generated by the
student mobility to a new foreigner context. Therefore, I believe this study opens a new vein that
shall be explored to foment contributions to the epistemology of education and society.
Methodology
The first decision regarding the research methodology is to define what type of research will be
the best to achieve the desired results. I am aware of the importance and limitation that most
methodology can bring to the study.
Boyd & Westfall (1987) point out that any attempt to classify research projects would be
"arbitrary" since such projects can be categorized under several classes, but they note, "the most
common are exploratory, descriptive and experimental studies."
Green & Tull (1978, p.477) present the features of each category:
"The main objectives of the exploratory studies are to identify
problems, the more precise formulation of problems including the
identification of relevant variables and…
…the formulation of a new alternative of actions. An exploratory
study is usually the first in a series of projects that culminate in search
of inferences to be used as the basis for further action.
The descriptive studies are concerned with the description of
features or functions. These studies often involve a deeper
description of association between two or more variables. This type
of information can be used to draw inferences about relationships
between variables.
The descriptive research, unlike the exploratory, is characterized by
the previous formulation of specific research issues. The researcher
already has a substantial amount of information about his/her
research problem, before the project begins. The researcher must be
able to define clearly, what he/she wants to measure and to establish
specific and appropriate measures to obtain them.
The case study looks for data collection to establish clear cause-andeffect relationships, creating a situation where the variables can be
controlled and manipulated".
According to Selltiz, Deutssch, & Cook (1974), "an exploratory study should always be
seen as a first step to verify hypotheses." In addition, Selltiz et al. (1974) claim that in the case of
problems with a large lack of knowledge, usually, the exploratory study is the most appropriate.
Hence, facing the lack of information about youth international exchange student program in the
literature, I believe that exploratory research would be the most appropriated to understand the
International Exchange Student Experiences of High-School-aged People of the Rotary Club
Program in Canada.
Each methodology has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the following
conditions: the type of research question, the researcher's control over behavioral events and the
historical or contemporary focus of the phenomenon. In general, the case study is the preferred
methodology for facing the questions "how" and "why," and when the investigator has little
control over the event. Also, Green & Tully (1978) say that a case study is the most appropriated
in the situations where the focus of the study is a contemporary phenomenon within a context
connected to the real world.
Regarding the choice of case, Selltiz et al. (1974) comment that naturally, the type of case
will vary its value depends on the problem under analysis… It is generally fair to say that for
exploratory studies, cases that present sharp contrasts or have salient aspects are more useful
because the perception of small differences tends to be difficult.
According to Yin (1990), the use of a case study is recommended when the researcher
investigates a contemporary phenomenon inserted in a context of real life, and the limits and the
boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly explained. Usually, it is a situation
that the investigator has little or no control. Thus, the development of a case study contributes to
the clarification of problem situations, and it serves to guide on how to relate findings to the
inquiries made.
The problem in my proposed study refers to international exchange student experiences
of high-school-aged people of the Rotary Club Program in Canada. My question focuses on a
current phenomenon experienced by international students, host families and educational
organizations engaged in the practical activities related to education. Based on characteristics of
the phenomenon, its relation with real world reality, previous consideration delineated in this
proposal, the type of information available, and the desired depth aimed, it is more suitable for
me to employ the methodology of case study to develop this exploratory research. I will use as
boundaries for my research time, geographical space, type of international program and number
of students.
Method to obtain the data
After developing a literature review, I will prepare focus group discussions and in-depth
interviews with participants of the Rotary Club international exchange program, with the aim of
understanding their perception and for generating data to support the analysis of the study.
The in-depth interviews will be semi-structured with pre-established questions, according
to the situation in each interview, to better explore the answers from the interviewees.
I will structure the interview tools with technical help from people that belong to the
following areas: education and international education. Through these in-depth interviews, it will
be possible to determine how international education is perceived in its global aspect from the
perspective of those participants who will provide spontaneous responses. I hope that rich data
will be obtained through predominantly open-ended questions clarifying the spontaneous
reactions.
From the group discussions, comparative data will be gathered from the different people's
roles in the international exchange program. In these discussions, the participants will provide
their opinions about the international exchange program. I will be the moderator to seek to
ensure that the conversation does not veer too far from the given subject. I will intervene only if
the discussion takes a very irrelevant direction. However, it is important that the participants
react naturally without inhibitions and defense mechanisms that would influence their honest
responses. The opinions shall be recorded allowing deeper analyses of results, criticisms and its
characteristics of the international exchange program and experiences.
Expected Results
It is expected that the result will be a better understanding of the pedagogical mechanism of
international exchange programs for high-school-age students and its impact on the student's
lives. I hope the result of this work can substantiate future studies and provides the construction
of a new education tool to create a more democratic opportunity for high-school age students to
try out the effects of international experience. After all, "no man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main" (Donne, 1624).
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