Italians and international school exchanges


A research on expectations, attitudes, likes and dislikes of students, families and school principals toward international school exchanges.

Six years after a similar survey conducted in 2001 on the attitude of Italians towards international exchanges, Intercultura Foundation has asked Ipsos to interview adolescents, parents and teachers to explore what they think of school exchanges, namely the opportunity to spend at least a school year in another country or to accept foreign students before college.

The phenomenon seems to be more known and accepted than six years ago, but its dimensions have grown only slightly. IPSOS estimates that today less than 3,000 young Italians go abroad for individual, extended stays (school year) and that about half of those go to friends or relatives, while the others participate in programs organized by non-profit organization or commercial agencies.

Teenagers are curious about their peers in other countries, but they are insecure about foreign languages, food and other differences in lifestyles. The ideal is still a summer vacation, funny and not very challenging: "a parenthesis that is not part of a global educational project."

Their families say they favor opportunities to meet "foreigners" but then they live them with discomfort and resistance. Priority is given to "protected", organized, short-lived experiences, mostly to study English and only if "they do not interferewith school". If invited to host a foreign student at home, they oppose language or lack of time and space or loss of privacy or disruption of private life as reasons. 

Schools believe that an experience abroad enriches students in their learning and constitutes a major opportunity to refine autonomy and the ability to fend for themselves. Yet in daily practice, teachers are among the strongest deterrents to these educational projects. Says one student: "My teachers told me that since there are some critical subjects missing in the school abroad, I could risk having to repeat the year". 

A long term experience abroad requires courage, the desire to prove oneself, adaptability, curiosity, maturity and the ability to stretch the view on one's future. Many adolescents on the other hand fear the loss of friends, academic difficulties when returning, homesickness. It's an experience that "goes against the tide" and a strong influence on  education and future career choices.



Abstract (in Italian)

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