Every day our world continues to grow closer together through the internet, global news media, artistic and cultural programs, technological cooperation, international commerce, and other avenues. Yet there’s nothing like direct personal contact to help us overcome distance to learn more about the diverse cultures, faith traditions, and worldviews that make up the human experience.
Travel abroad can be among life’s most affirming and rewarding activities, challenging one’s established notions and creating opportunities for personal growth. Plus, you get to explore fabulous historical sites, take in breath-taking natural vistas, try a lot of interesting food, and make great new friends! As noted American author Henry Miller observed, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
A number of organizations have made it their mission to enable more of us to go out into the world as part of cultural exchanges between countries and regions. Not only can you reap all the usual benefits of personal travel, but, as part of an exchange program, you can be an ambassador to the people of other countries and bring first-hand stories and observations back to share with your community. It’s amazing to learn how human nature and local priorities shape life in other parts of the world. This knowledge can help each one of us to live more purposefully, and work more effectively for peace, both locally and globally.
If you’re interested in participating in an exchange program, check out any of the following organizations:
The Acumen Fund Fellows Program
Fellowships with the Acumen Fund are available to business entrepreneurs interested in helping poor communities in developing nations. Participants are placed in various countries to work on Acumen fund portfolio projects increasing the exchange of goods and services, and training local communities to create sustainable change. Fellows are also given the opportunity to develop and implement new ideas.
The Alliance of Civilizations International Fellowship
The Alliance of Civilizations International Fellowship (AOCIF) was developed in collaboration with the United Nations, the British Council, the League of Arab States, the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, the government of Qatar, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The program sends emerging leaders from the West and Middle East North African region abroad to learn about institutions and societies in foreign countries. Experience in various sectors provides fellows with exposure to unfamiliar business, culture, attitudes, and societies to promote dialogue, cooperation, awareness, and respect.
America India Foundation Clinton Fellowship for Service
The William Jefferson Clinton Fellowship, administered by the America India Foundation, is an exchange program that places Americans with technical and intellectual skills in under-resourced Indian NGOs for a period of 10 months. This experience exposes the fellows to developmental issues facing organizations engaged in social and economic initiatives in India, in order to better equip these potential future leaders in their positions at home.
For over 40 years, AMIDEAST has arranged and administered student and employee exchange programs between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa. In the short term, these programs contribute to individual success and provide a forum for positive cross-cultural interaction. In the long term, they hold the potential to improve economic development, cross-cultural understanding, and even foreign policy.
Ashoka’s Venture & Fellowship Program
The Ashoka Fellowship is awarded to candidates who have demonstrated an innovative commitment to social entrepreneurial initiatives. They are placed in over 60 countries and are either approached by the organization or nominated by members of the community. Fellows join the global Ashoka changemaker community, and are given support, collaboration opportunities, and recognition for their work.
Through its Asian-American Exchange unit, the Asia Foundation seeks to encourage greater understanding between Asians and Americans with the ultimate aim of contributing towards strengthened U.S.-Asia relations. Over the past five decades, Foundation grants have provided thousands of participants with opportunities to exchange views and gain direct experience with regions other than their own.
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State fosters mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. This agency provides information and resources pertaining to the International Visitor Leadership Program, English language teaching and learning, studying abroad for Americans, citizen exchanges, cultural programs, and other activities and services.
Coalition for Citizen Diplomacy
The Coalition for Citizen Diplomacy is leading a nation-wide effort to raise the profile and strengthen the impact of the citizen diplomacy movement. By opening their homes, offices and schools to foreign visitors participating in exchange programs across the United States, citizen diplomats foster international understanding and cooperation, constructive economic connections and peaceful interaction.
Council for International Exchange of Scholars
For over 50 years, CIES has helped administer the Fulbright Scholar Program, the U.S. government's flagship academic exchange effort, on behalf of the United States Department of State. CIES maintains deep ties with the U.S. higher education community, including individual universities and colleges and major scholarly organizations. Fulbright grants are made to U.S. citizens and nationals of other countries for a variety of educational activities, primarily university lecturing, advanced research, graduate study and teaching in elementary and secondary schools.
Cultural Exchange Network
Cultural Exchange Network (CENET) is a State Department-designated sponsor of an Exchange Visitor Program that offers summer work opportunities of 4 months’ duration to eligible international full-time post-secondary students during their summer vacations from school. CENET is also a State Department-designated sponsor of an Exchange Visitor Program that offers practical work based experiences of 6, 12, or 18 months’ duration in the U.S. to qualified international candidates in the broad fields of business, sciences, architecture, engineering, and information technology.
The Deshpande Foundation Sandbox Fellowship
The Deshpande Foundation is a philanthropic organization based in India and Massachusetts. Its Sandbox Fellowship is a year-long program focused on entrepreneurship, economic development, and global exchange. Fellows with a background in business, IT, finance, or related fields partner with Indian NGOs to contribute their skills and knowledge to the sectors of agriculture, livelihood, health, and education in order to introduce innovative ideas, products and services. A Junior Fellowship for a period of 3-to-6 months is also available at the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
Global Learning Across Borders
Global-Lab is a non-profit organization that creates collaborative, cross-cultural learning opportunities in Asia and the Middle East/North Africa for high school students, interim (gap year) students, undergraduates, and educators. By connecting global studies curricula with experiential education beyond classroom walls, Global LAB serves people seeking to deepen global awareness through direct experience and interaction at the grassroots level.
Institute of International Education
IIE is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 1919, dedicated to promoting closer educational relations between the people of the United States and those of other countries. IIE builds leadership skills and enhances the capacity of individuals and organizations to address local and global challenges. IIE manages over 250 programs involving 18,000 men and women from 175 nations each year.
International Fellows Program
The International Fellows Program provides recent college graduates and current graduate students the opportunity to work with African, Asian, South American, and Australian NGOs on literacy, education, health development, HIV/AIDS, English as a Second Language, agriculture, proposal development, and managerial training projects. This nine-month fellowship was designed to offer technical support to international sustainable development work in collaboration with organizations like Africare, UNAIDS, Save the Children, and World Cocoa Foundation.
Mobility International USA
MIUSA has been pioneering short-term international exchange programs in the U.S. and abroad since 1981, and has worked with people with and without disabilities from over 90 countries. Specialized efforts include Employment Strategies Exchange Programs, Young Leaders Exchange Programs, and Women’s Leadership Programs, all of which bring together emerging leaders with disabilities from around the world to build skills, exchange experiences and strategies, create new visions and strengthen international networks of support.
National Council for International Visitors
NCIV serves as the professional association for the international exchange community, which includes a national network of community-based member organizations, national program agencies, associate member organizations, and individuals. NCIV’s member organizations, all of which are independent nonprofit groups, design and implement custom-tailored professional programs, provide cultural activities, and offer home hospitality for foreign leaders, specialists, and international scholars.
Studies Abroad for Global Education Program
Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE) offers community service projects and gap-year programs in India to promote intercultural understanding. The program began as a recruitment initiative for the Woodstock and Kodiakanal international schools, and eventually expanded into a more comprehensive international exchange.
Washington Cultural Exchange
Washington Cultural Exchange is a non-profit organization established in 1986 as an Educational and Cultural Program to increase cultural awareness and appreciation through international travel and competition. During the past 22 years WCE has safely sent 287 Student Delegations (totaling 7,430 participants) overseas and hosted 38 Student Delegations (totaling 611 participants) from abroad. Traveling with Washington Cultural Exchange is an exceptional opportunity for students to enhance Cultural Understanding through Educational Travel and Competition.