The Experiment’s focus has always been to improve understanding across cultures and expand the worldview of U.S. students. The Experiment remains a leader in the field of intercultural exchange and, with 70,000 alumni, continues to build on its legacy.
The Leader in Intercultural Exchange & Founders of the Homestay
Dissatisfied with the state of international education, in 1932, former Syracuse University personnel director Dr. Donald Watt created a revolutionary new cultural immersion program called “The Experiment in International Living.” On June 23 of that year, The Experiment’s first group of U.S. students set sail across the Atlantic to Switzerland, France, and Germany with the mission of fostering peace through building understanding with their European peers. The 23 U.S. students returned with a different outlook on the world and the possibilities of communication and cooperation, as well as new leadership skills. The following year, Watt conceived the idea of having U.S. students live with German families to deepen their connections. This new concept came to be known as the homestay and allowed students to develop authentic and lasting bonds with their host communities and cultures.
Inspiring Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps
In the early 1960s, Sargent Shriver—the first director of the Peace Corps and an alum of The Experiment—called on The Experiment to train the earliest Peace Corps Volunteers. Shriver had had a life-changing experience as a participant in one of the first Experiment programs. Two years after his program, he served as an Experiment group leader to Germany and Austria and later was a group leader to France. These experiences helped Shriver develop the founding principles of the Peace Corps. He invited The Experiment President Gordon Boyce to help train the first Peace Corps volunteers to Gabon and Pakistan, which was the start of a deep, decades-long partnership between the Peace Corps, The Experiment in International Living, and our parent organization World Learning Inc.
The Experiment Today
Since its early years, The Experiment has grown dramatically in size, scope, geography, and concept, and today offers a unique selection of college credit and internship programs, virtual exchanges, and trips abroad. The Experiment is the flagship of World Learning, a thriving global nonprofit organization with education, global development, and exchange programs in more than 150 countries. Throughout its growth, The Experiment also inspired the formation of two additional branches: the School for International Training (SIT), and World Learning. Alumni of The Experiment are part of a worldwide community spanning the World Learning Inc. family. Participating in The Experiment is only the beginning of lifelong opportunities to engage with this global network, all while fueling your purpose-driven passions.
Highlights and Accomplishments
The following is a brief snapshot of initiatives that have kept The Experiment on the cutting edge of intercultural exchange throughout the past nine decades.
Seeking to attract the most dynamic students from across the U.S., in 1940, The Experiment started offering scholarships to young people from different geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. This practice continues today, as we are committed to recruiting and supporting students of the broadest socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity of any high school exchange program in the world. More than 50 percent of Experimenters receive some form of financial support. Learn more about The Experiment’s approach to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
Immediately following World War II, The Experiment began sending groups to Western Europe to help rebuild communities across the war-ravaged continent. These were some of the first-generation community service and volunteer programs to be built into intercultural education.
The Experiment is a founding member of Federation EIL, Inc., an independent nonprofit organization established more than 60 years ago to bring together a worldwide network of organizations in 17 countries. Federation EIL members promote intercultural learning experiences through homestays, group travel, study abroad, language training, work exchange, and other cultural immersion programs.
In January 2011, the White House acknowledged the efforts of The Experiment to increase educational and civic engagement between the United States and China. Building on decades of experience, The Experiment continues to launch new programs in less commonly visited destinations. GoAbroad also recognized The Experiment as the Top-Rated Youth Travel Organization in 2017 and 2018 and the number three Top-Rated Youth Travel Program Provider in 2019. In addition, The Experiment was a finalist for GoAbroad’s 2018 Innovation in Diversity award for its groundbreaking program Netherlands: LGBTQ+ Rights & Advocacy.
Expanding digital programming was always a long-term goal of The Experiment’s. In 2016 we launched our first virtual program connecting young leaders with each other while in 2020, COVID-19 presented an opportunity to expand our virtual programming. In a matter of weeks, most Experiment team leaders—who had been preparing to facilitate in-person activities and exchanges for hundreds of students—became instructional designers almost overnight. Today, The Experiment Digital is a critical outlet for global intercultural exchange and has provided more than 2,000 students with a safe, accessible, and dynamic experience amid a worldwide pandemic.
The Experiment continues to leverage its partnership with SIT, and in 2022 will offer its first selection of internships for college credit. Experimenters will be able to intern with and learn from field experts, experiment with different career paths, and experience new cultures, all while earning college credit.