While it can sometimes seem that the advantages of study abroad programs are one-sided, it’s not just the student who travels abroad who wins. Students in classes where an international student is placed can also benefit greatly from the experience. In fact, even one exchange student’s attendance can positively impact other students and educators across an entire school community. Think of it as a cultural infusion.

An Increasingly Global World

The world is becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected. Professionals are expected to be globally and culturally competent in order to work in the modern business environment—having the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors necessary to succeed in an interconnected world. This includes the ability to recognize diverse perspectives and appreciate various viewpoints when communicating ideas and taking actions.

As a global citizen, you are keenly aware of the bigger picture, something we call “global competence.” You see beyond your immediate environment to understand the wider world and your place in it. Global citizens recognize that despite walls and barriers, we are part of a global population that is connected to and interdependent on each other.

When you welcome an exchange student into your school, you expose your teachers and students to diverse perspectives. You expand their worldviews. You set them on the path to global citizenship. Just by participating in class and after-school activities, exchange students stimulate their classmates’ experiential learning of other cultures and global competence.

As a principal, you see it as your charge to be proactive in encouraging deeper-level thinking and cultural consciousness in and out of the classroom. Exchange students spark this very type of behavior simply through their interpersonal interactions; however, in developing tailored lesson plans and after-school activities and programs, you can better capitalize on the benefits of hosting an international student and provide impactful learning opportunities to the school community.

This learning experience has the potential to reward all involved and should be part of your school’s overall strategy to increase global competence. In addition to hosting exchange students, it’s important to reflect on—and be honest about—where your school’s curriculum and offerings fall on the spectrum of global competence.

In the Classroom

One exchange student’s diverse perspective may serve as a catalyst for engaging with other cultures in the classroom. Ryan Hamilton—a social studies teacher from Tillamook High School in Tillamook, OR—and his students underwent a transformative experience as a result of welcoming an exchange student to the classroom. “Consider the impact of studying world religions with students from Pakistan and Turkey present in your classroom,” Hamilton says. “Imagine the conversations in the current affairs class when discussing the Middle Eastern conflicts with a student from the Gaza Strip among your students.” By welcoming culturally diverse students, Hamilton has witnessed cultural engagement occur in his own classroom.

To help integrate exchange students and foster these types of discussions, be sure your teachers are equipped to create an environment that promotes respect and understanding of other cultures before welcoming an international student. Then, inspire students to think about the world beyond their current environment by discussing how different countries respond to world events. Science teachers can use their classroom for intercultural discussions by having students examine the threats posed by climate change through the lens of different countries. Literature teachers could assign novels close in theme by authors around the world and find differences and similarities. History teachers could lead discussions on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and how it relates to modern day human rights efforts around the globe. Engaging lesson plans about real-time issues affecting the global community get local students excited to explore different cultures and broaden their global mindset without them having to leave their classrooms.

After-School Activities

Give students the chance to explore different cultures in a less restricted setting in after-school activities and programs. Encourage debate clubs to explore various dimensions of globally controversial issues, such as freedom of religion or governmental censorship. By discussing and forming opinions around global issues, students practice recognizing their own and others’ perspectives—a key component of globally competent citizens.

Project-based learning also offers an opportunity for students to increase their global competency skills. Work with your exchange student to learn about an issue or problem that they face in their home country, such as increasing participation in local elections or improving access to education in disenfranchised areas of the country. Whatever the topic, an international student could show domestic students an unfamiliar challenge and help stimulate discussion on past solutions and future ideas. The key to this type of exercise is ensuring students effectively communicate their ideas across cultures in a sensitive and mindful way. Through these exercises, students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills required for future professions and global citizenship.

As principal and leader of the school community, you have the platform to help the larger community appreciate other cultures and learn to be open to new ideas, attitudes, and traditions. Intercultural events hosted at school, such as multicultural fairs, harmony days, or diversity workshops for students and members of the community encourage people to investigate other cultures and consider other viewpoints. While these events shouldn’t necessarily revolve around your international exchange student and their country, the student’s arrival provides a way to introduce diverse perspectives into the community, letting you move the needle on your community’s global and cultural competence.

A Learning Experience for All

Expect your teachers and students to grow and learn when an international student joins their ranks. Their imagination, problem-solving, and worldviews will be challenged to evolve as diverse perspectives are recognized and global competence increases.

When an exchange student arrives at your school, you can expect them to learn a great deal from living in the United States. By setting an agenda to stimulate global consciousness in the classroom and beyond, your school can have just as fruitful of an experience.

Tara Hofmann is the president and CEO of AFS-USA, a nonprofit leader in global cultural exchange.

Sidebar: Building Ranks™ Connections

Dimension: Global-mindedness

You can encourage a global curriculum and learning culture in formal and informal ways. Curricular and technological choices should be made to support global perspectives, either through broad programs such as an IB program or through individual curricular foci. Throughout, students’ diversity and cultural backgrounds should be celebrated as strengths and opportunities for learning within the school community.

Global-mindedness is part of the Building Culture domain of Building Ranks.