I interviewed a few Muslim teenagers from the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia recently who had participated last school year in the Youth Exchange and Study program run by the U.S. Department of State. They told me they had adjusted some of their perceptions of Americans, such as that they party all the time, and also helped to expand Americans’ knowledge about their home countries and cultures.
This year marks the fifth year of the program, established by legislation in the U.S. Congress after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to promote mutual understanding between the United States and the Muslim world. You can find articles about the program published in Education Week here, here, and here. The interviews I conducted of students from this year’s program are published at edweek.org.
When I’ve chatted with students from the exchange program, I’ve always been struck by their disappointment that American teenagers don’t know much about the exchange students’ home countries. There’s got to be a way for schools to help American youths in this regard—to help them learn more about the world outside of their own country.
The biggest obstacle to expanding the program is that the nonprofit organizations that handle its logistics for the State Department can’t find enough families to host students, according to the staff of one of those organizations, AYUSA Global Youth Exchange in San Francisco. If you’d like to host a teenager through the program, call 1 888 55 AYUSA.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.