The coronavirus pandemic has had especially negative impacts on exchange programs. I was participating in an exchange program, but I could not complete it due to the pandemic like other exchange students. I was curious whether other exchange programs had continued despite the continued spread of the coronavirus. During this pandemic, I had the opportunity to interview Jaeho Son, the CEO of Aim High Education.
Mr. Son said, “Since the 1990s, exchange programs became active in Korea. In the early 2000s, these programs became quite popular. In 2008, about 1,500 Korean students joined exchange programs every year. Before the pandemic, 700 to 800 Korean students were joining exchange programs annually. Currently, however, the number of students registering for exchange programs has decreased by 90 percent.
According to his explanation, the first exchange program was organized in 1961 by James William Fulbright, who was an American senator. His goal was to establish amicable relationships between the US and other countries. The students would attend a school in the US for a year and experience the culture of America. His aim was to promote cultural exchange and world peace. This was the origin of the exchange program.
What is the best advantage of joining an exchange program? Most readers would expect it to be improving English or experiencing foreign cultures. However, Mr. Son’s answer was different. He said, “Through exchange programs, most (Korean) exchange students strengthen their spirit of independence, become more mature, and turn into self-directed students.” He then went on to mention the common advantages, such as improving English skills.
On the other hand, he also explained the negative aspects of exchange programs. One is that the duration of the program is restricted into one year. Another is that applicants need to be fluent enough in English to pass ELTIS (English Language Test for International Students). There is also the fact that students are randomly assigned to a host family. The situation of the host family may be very different from what students expected, causing some students to struggle to adapt or overcome problems with the host family during the program.
Additionally, Mr. Son gave precautions for students who are planning to join an exchange program. First, he suggested not deciding by looking at advertisements. Programs that emphasize their lower cost are likely to be of lower quality. He also suggested carefully observing the employees, who help students join the program. They should be fluent in English and experienced in handling the unpleasant issues that students may have. Moreover, he recommended doing a search to learn about the reputation of the program as much as possible. He said that Aim High Education personnel visit the US twice a year to foster amicable relationships with local coordinators and host families, prevent unfortunate issues, and ensure the students’ safety. Mr. Son recommended joining an exchange program in ninth grade. He said, “If the students join when they are a junior or senior, they will be too busy preparing for college admission.”
Mr. Son talked about the pros and cons of the exchange program. In particular, he emphasized that most exchange students become more mature and turned into self-directed students. As Mr. Son said, I, also, believe that joining an exchange program is definitely worthwhile.
The Learning Community International School
Chris Ghim email@example.com
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