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About school exchanges

School exchanges may arise from informal relationships between partner schools, or particular individuals in those schools, and they are often supported through twin (sister) city initiatives, cultural organisations (e.g. British Council, Goethe Institute, Alliance Française), philanthropic bodies and, in Europe, the ERASMUS programme.

In addition to formal exchanges, educational tourism is an overarching concept to cover activity and cultural holidays, volunteering programmes, academic competitions and the growing phenomenon of international study (McGladdery and Lubbe, 2017). Exchanges do not need to be face to face and technology supported exchanges have been carried out in the contexts of tandem language learning, online discussion groups, and co-production of joint artefacts (e.g. Kreikemeier and James, 2018).

What are the benefits of such exchanges?

Two commonly reported goals for international exchange are:

  • to provide an opportunity to use a foreign language in authentic contexts (Çiftçi and Savaş, 2018) though in some cases priority may be given to using English as an international language.
  • to develop awareness of global citizenship, i.e. students encounter another culture and learn that practices are both similar and different across the world. Exchanges can be set up between students in broadly similar contexts (e.g. Melin and Wagner, 2015), dissimilar (e.g Scribner, 2017) or a mix (e.g. Austin, 2006).

The benefits of exchange depend on the goals of the exchange and the depth of immersion. More immersive exchanges give extended experience of different curriculum content and styles of teaching in ways in which short visits cannot. More generally, successful exchanges depend on personal orientation and appropriate support. In particular, participants need to show curiosity, open-mindedness and flexibility if they are to benefit. However exchanges also need to be planned and facilitated – this involves communication between partners and student learning before, during and/or after the experience.

Those researching schools exchanges often see them as promotiing Intercultural Competence (in brief this is defined as a lifelong process in which skills, knowledge, and attitudes are developed for effective and appropriate communication and behaviour between people from different backgrounds, see Deardoff, 2016). Exchanges are also closely tied to the idea of global citizenship (covering respect for difference, reflection on roles and awareness of others' expectations) and the contact hypothesis which proposes that feelings of fear and prejudice regarding others can be broken down by exposure (see Austin, 2006).

School exchanges have value and can benefit all concerned. However, successful outcomes are not guaranteed. Exchanges should not be seen as necessarily face to face and technology mediation can be a valued alternative.


Austin, R. (2006) The role of ICT in bridge‐building and social inclusion: theory, policy and practice issues. European Journal of Teacher Education 29(2) 145-161.

Deardorff, D. (2016) How to assess intercultural competence. In: Z. Hua (Ed) Research Methods in Intercultural Communication: A practical guide. London: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 120-134.

Kreikemeier A and James C (2018) Commenting across difference: Youth dialogue in an intercultural virtual exchange program. Digital Culture & Education 10.[online].

McGladdery, C. and Lubbe, B. (2017) International educational tourism: Does it foster global learning? A survey of South African high school learners. Tourism Management 62: 292-301.

Scribner, C. (2017) American teenagers, educational exchange, and cold war politics. History of Education Quarterly 57(4): 542-569.