Cultural exchange
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This article is written by Ruhi Kanakia, a student of ILS Law College, Pune. The article explains the history and the growing importance of the concept of cross-cultural exchanges, on a global level. 


In light of the emerging global trends and transnational connections, the want of a culturally diverse and culturally sensitive global population is at the forefront. Countries believe in optimizing trade and commerce by physical interactions and bonds between nations, which seems to be the trend in recent times. The advent of technology has made nations virtually much closer, but the actual understanding of the diverse culture, traditions, living standards, and economic needs can only be understood through physical experiences. This pressing prerequisite in improving trade relations led to the idea of giving certain individuals the privilege of visiting and experiencing life in other nations and bringing some cultural knowledge back to their home country. 

Cultural exchange program

The idea of initiating cultural exchange programs first hatched after the 2nd World War, when the people of different countries wanted to unify against violence and hate among nations. The concept is essentially a process that involves a two-way transfer of an individual to a different country from their home country to promote their home country’s values and culture and imbibe the visiting country’s traditions and way of life. It is a method of improving relations amongst nations wherein they can respect and understand the needs and values of other nations in the world, which increases the probability of desired relations of trade and commerce, as well as political relations, due to the attraction that this concept garners.

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Such cultural exchanges started out by sending working-class individuals to understand the working and the economy of other countries, but it led to the generation of a larger and more extensive concept, that stretches across age groups and purposes. 


World War II ignited a want in the people of different nations, to promote diplomacy and political relations through exchange and travel. Religion and Trade understanding were the initial propagators of this concept, as people wanted to spread their beliefs and values to improve trade relations between nations. Exploitation and violence have been the characteristic feature of many trading ventures, ever since the era of the Crusades to the advent of colonialism. These ventures required convoys and huge vessels to be effective amidst technological obstacles so as to trade with merchants and get accustomed to strange languages and cultures. However, people from different nations such as travellers, traders, missionaries, pilgrims, etc., found manners and methods to establish relations with people from other countries and get familiar with their languages and customs. 

1936– Over concerns regarding the rise of Fascism in European countries, Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested a meeting of the American Republics, to discuss peace and togetherness in the Western Hemisphere, wherein he gave a speech emphasizing the importance of unity and cultural exchange amidst the members of the Western Hemisphere nations. This served as the origin of the idea of cultural exchange. 

1941– In 1941, sometime after the above-mentioned conference, the first group of potential leaders was invited by the United States of America to partake in a professional cultural exchange in their country. This program is now known as the International Visitor Leadership Program.

1961– Senator William Fulbright, in 1961, initiated what is known as the ‘launching pad’ for cultural exchange programs by creating the Fulbright Hays Act. The primary purpose of such action was to maintain transnational connections, and expansion of international opportunities, by mandating governmental education and cultural exchanges for students and justifies the need to do so by stating that ‘The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy- the ability to see the world as others see it and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. International educational exchange is the most significant current project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point that men can learn to live in peace’.

This marked the advent of such a program to come into the limelight of different countries.

Benefits of a cultural exchange program

Cultural exchanges provide an opportunity to explore other cultures, traditions, customs, beliefs, societies, languages, and much more. Hence, such opportunities make you view the world with a different lens. This provides alternative perspectives! It broadens one’s horizons and increases the tendency of acceptance. By understanding differences from others, one tends to recognize one’s own self. Cultural exchanges allow us to experience the exotic cultures, but at the same time, provide an opportunity to better understand our own cultures and traditions. Hence, these opportunities act as widows of self-awareness. Cultural exchanges can be challenging, but therein lies their value. Facing hurdles during an exchange gives people a sense of accomplishment, boosting their self-esteem and self-awareness. Effectively, they return home with the ambition and confidence necessary to take on new challenges and pursue new goals. 

Directly experiencing something is the best way to learn. Therefore, cultural exchanges allow us to experience another culture by living and learning about languages, customs, traditions, lifestyles, food, social structures, and whatnot! Further, visiting another country on a cultural exchange gives a context to language learning wherein people can be better motivated to learn a different language or apply their language skills. 

Diversity is beautiful. It is the prerequisite of unity. Unity, instead of uniformity, creates tolerance, acceptance, and flexibility. To attain unity, it is necessary to appreciate diversity. Cultural exchanges help us do just that. When one experiences other cultures, views the world with another lens and accepts the “other”, one understands the very essence of diversity which is the first step towards attaining unity. Cultural exchanges help us fight stereotypes and misunderstandings by representing our real selves by interacting with those who have never met us before.

Cultural exchange projects in India

In addition to the myriad cultural exchange programs that initiate in other nations and invite Indian nationals to participate in exchanges, India too has initiated and partnered with many cultural exchange programs that facilitate trans-border relations. 

Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) 

The Government department and entity, the ICCR was curated to portray the Indian costumes and culture to nations outside, and bring back cultural knowledge therefrom, back to the country. This organization was established in 1950, and initiated cross-cultural exchanges, scholarships for students, camps and cultural tours to other nations, and generally has the object of cultural expansion. It was the primary manager of the Indian Festivals held in 1980 in London, Paris, Moscow, and others. It gains funds from the External Affairs Committee and makes it easy for students to understand the diverse values of other nations. 

Intercultural Dialogue & Exchange – India 

This endeavour was initiated in 1983 in Germany but was franchised in India in 2006, by some young ICDE volunteers in India. It provides opportunities to the youth of the country to gain an educational and cultural understanding of the world, through volunteer and social service work. The program ‘seeks to strengthen one’s commitment to peace, justice, equality, international understanding, and friendship. It equips and educates young people to be aware of the world and the needs of its inhabitants. It further gives one an insight into the common heritage of mankind’.


The organization, explained in detail hereunder, has a youth-run managing committee known as AIESEC India, that facilitates cultural exchanges to and from India by linking and networking with other AIESEC entities in different nations. The organization works like an interconnected web, which facilitates leadership experiences to the youth via cross-cultural exchanges. 

Kala Nirvana Exchanges 

An organization predominantly working towards spreading art and expression across the world, Kala Nirvana promotes cross-cultural exchanges for a different purpose. ‘The main objectives of the KIAR Residency will be communication between Indian and International artists and cultural activists, exchange of values and cultures through the means of arts, the presentation of India’s rich and diverse heritage, the philosophy of ‘BASUDEVA KUTUMBAKAM’


It began as American Field Service in WWI & II when nearly 5,000 young men from all over the world volunteered as ambulance drivers. These young men who had seen the horrors of war pledged to promote peace and global understanding through intercultural exchanges. AFS has been doing intercultural programs since 1947, currently present in more than 54 countries with over 14,000 exchanges per year.

Since 1947, when the first student exchanges took place, more than 3, 60,000 participants and a similar number of host families have been a part of AFS worldwide. Presently there are more than 40,000 active volunteers worldwide in various roles including board leadership, program operations, participant support, and marketing. They have been encouraging students, volunteers, and families to embrace change-making and social impact projects to improve local, national, and global communities while supporting and valuing initiatives that extend our “learning to live together” philosophy to make a real difference in the world. They look forward to using all the structured intercultural learning tools to help everyone involved to collaborate with each other and lead across cultural differences.

Strengthening the base of cultural exchange with other countries

In India, the advent of initiating international relations through cross-cultural exchanges was developed at a later stage, as compared to many developed nations. In order to be at par with other nations in terms of establishing cultural relations, India took a number of steps in recent years, under the guidance and direction of the External Affairs Ministry

  • After 70 years from the establishment of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, in a congratulatory measure, a ‘Gandhi Centre’ was set up in the Hague in 2011, which now serves as a cultural wing of the Indian Embassy. 
  • India entered into an agreement with the Russian Federation in 2017, to strengthen and develop traditional relations and cooperation between the two nations and their people. This agreement was called the ‘Cultural Exchange Programme’ between the Ministries of Culture in both countries. 
  • India and Turkey have entered into many MoUs such as the Cultural Exchange Program of 2017-2020, the MoU for Cooperation between Foreign Service Institute of India and Diplomacy Academy of Turkey, and an for the gainful occupation for family members of the diplomatic mission or consular posts. 
  • The ICCR, along with its other activities, has also constituted many cultural centres and initiated flagship understandings between India and other nations, more particularly described here.

Through these initiatives and programs, India has moved forward in the march towards forming international cultural relations with other nations and strengthening political and economic ties through the same. 

Cultural exchange program for students

After the onset of this trend across the globe, the program then shifted its focus from professional exchanges to different age brackets that could go for exchanges for different purposes.


AIESEC, a youth leadership organization, was curated in 1948, after World War II, wherein seven people across the glove dreamt of creating a cross-cultural link among nations. By 1997, the organization had spread to over 70 countries, serving and bringing together over 40000 youths across the world to participate in a leadership developing experience. In 2010, the organization gained status, when it collaborated with the office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth at the UN Headquarters to promote Sustainable Development Goals in the youth of today. AIESEC is now present in 122+ countries across 6 continents and is the world’s largest youth-run organization in the business of cross-cultural exchanges. There are various opportunities for people within varied age brackets that can apply to be a part of an exchange, which ranges from ages 18-30. 

Global Volunteer: This product is the most prominent of AIESEC’s activities, and it involves an individual from one AIESEC entity to volunteer in a social organization related to the cause of their choice in another AIESEC entity. It is their social and culturally promoting product, mainly aimed at individuals aged 18-21 for a period of 4-6 weeks, but is open to anyone who wishes to participate in the same.

Global Entrepreneur: A product directed to graduating students or graduate students looking for exposure to a particular sector of work in another country. It entails the individual from the home entity to attend an unpaid internship in the firm partnered with the host entity of AIESEC, for a period of 6-12 weeks. 

Global Talent: This product is aimed towards the youth between the ages of 23-30, by providing them with job opportunities and paid internships for a period of 6 months-1 year in a firm partnered with the host entity. 

The organization, therefore, has a holistic client base and provides the youth with all kinds of opportunities to develop leadership and gain a cultural and global understanding of the world. 

The major opportunities that students can avail, to travel and experience myriad cultures of the world are provided at the college/university level in most major private institutes. These colleges partner with organizations and universities in countries abroad, to foster cultural relations between students of both universities, that have a parallel course structure and credit system. 

Young Scholars Programme, Ashoka University, Sonipat 

This university provides students with the opportunity of one-week experiences in summer programs held in colleges of different countries, The programme exposes students to disciplines of their choice including science, literature, history, etc., through practical and adaptive learning techniques. It is aimed at giving the students a holistic view of a liberal arts course and broadening their view of subjects and career choices.  

Summer Immersion Program, Flame University, Pune 

Again a program primarily for the students of the liberal arts, the Summer Immersion Program is a two-week course for higher secondary students aspiring to learn liberal arts. This program not only includes academic sessions and interdisciplinary frameworks of subjects but also focuses on practical aspects and learning in the liberal arts sector. It is more of a trial period for aspiring students, rather than a curative structure after choosing to study liberal arts. 

Summer Leadership Programme, The Doon School, Dehradun 

The Doon School has initiated a summer internship program to aid and enhance leadership and activism by academic and experiential opportunities. They provide 2-week exchanges to schools in other countries to facilitate the same, which is availed by the students to benefit from this program.

Pre-University Programme, Symbiosis Summer School, Symbiosis International University, Pune 

The Symbiosis Semester Exchange Program is limited to students studying in the university. It has partnered with the International Cultural Exchange group called Erasmus, which promotes student exchanges and the generation of a community of such students. The students enrolled with Symbiosis can opt to be considered for this opportunity, and after a selection round, are handpicked to complete a Semester of college in a partner college in Europe. 

Aspire India Scholars Programme, Jindal Global Summer School, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat 

Jindal University, having a stellar reputation, provides summer exchange programs for high school students to help them in applying for higher degree courses in universities, both national and international. 

Cultural and educational cooperation with developing countries

International Cultural and Educational Cooperation is understood in the public as well as the private sphere, as well as to national, as well as international measures to project knowledge, arts, information, and skills as well as promote the transmission of the same across borders. The meaning and understanding of the word has undergone significant changes over the years since the 1940s and still continues to be a concept the meaning of which is dynamic. Out of the many activities this concept envisages, cross-cultural exchanges or scholars, students, and professionals are of high prerogative. Since World War II, this idea has been floating around certain countries, namely France, the United Kingdom, Germany, wherein such experiences were governmentally sponsored to attain an understanding of different foreign policies amongst nations and analyze policy objectives of the same. Being as dynamic a concept as it is, the understanding of international cultural and educational corporations now is recognized in certain degrees in a larger number of countries as a tool in improving international relations and has become an imperative measure in many companies for improving the work environment and providing a culturally diverse workforce in the company.

In its primitive stages, the idea was primarily directed towards certain sectors and individuals such as religious institutions, business groups, educational institutions and other foundations. The idea was to aid developing countries in their journey to economic and social prosperity by providing and spreading resources, both cultural and educational, in such countries, which was not accepted judiciously by certain developing nations until much recently. 

Organizations involved in cultural and educational cooperation with developing countries:

The major forces that undertake such a concept include large international organizations including the United Nations, the European Community and the Organization of American States, which are aided and promoted by national organizations in various countries, either assisted governmentally or otherwise, by using cultural and educational resources as steps to improve their foreign policies. 

These organizations have promoted the concept in myriad ways which include the following measures undertaken by them.

  • The United Nations promotes peace and harmony, along with the development of the society into a united community, which gives an impetus to developing nations to cooperate with other countries. 
  • These organizations transmit the ideology that cultural and educational exchanges can contribute to the development of such a peaceful and united community.
  • The developing countries understand the need for interdependence among them, in order to be on equal footing with the developed countries in terms of economic, social, intellectual, technological, and cultural aspects of society. 
  • The developing nations, after the 2nd World War, were economically weaker, and could not resort to modern weapons and ammunition, like most developed nations. These organizations helped such nations attain the realization that these countries could reduce post-war problems by the understanding of international human welfare, via cultural cooperation and friendly relations with other nations. 

United Nations: The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was assigned the role of taking this concept forward in the post-war period. The primary objective of such a body was the transmission of knowledge and international cooperation by promoting and encouraging the exchange of science, education, culture, and mass media among nations, especially with developing nations. Gaining a transnational impetus by cooperating with other organizations such as the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, Food, and Agriculture Organization, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. UNESCO increased its scope of promoting international cultural and educational cooperation among nations, and sped up such transmission of knowledge and know-how, with a primary focus on increasing development in certain underdeveloped countries.

Organization of American States: This organization is predominantly involved in curating cultural cooperation and internationalism facilities, and promoting the rapid development of culture and education in developing nations, as well as providing economic and developmental assistance to these nations.

The concept of international cooperation in culture and education is still emerging and awaiting its peak of development. It is, however, occasionally overshadowed by political and international measures to increase political prowess in certain countries. Even though such measures invariably assist the major objective of the concept, they do not meet the right parameters of purely working towards the international cultural and educational corporation, and developing the same in all nations. 

Imperative value garnered through cultural exchanges

The Cultural Programs help not only students, but also many other young aspiring adults and professionals in gaining a global understanding of life, and broadening the horizon of their views and ideologies. They help in improving the country’s art, literature, music, forms, etc., by giving it a worldly touch and making choices considering the international standards of the same. 

The strengthened international relations through these exchanges help in improving the position of the country in international markets, especially in the market of handicrafts, ethnic art, indigenous works, etc., thus helping and promoting Indian artists and craftsmen.   

It creates an ease of exporting and importing various other materials, owing to the improved relations with other nations, and gaining a deeper understanding at a first-hand level, of the needs and styles of other countries. 

The sharing and intermingling of ideas and concepts of different countries together, in the course of understanding a country’s culture, helps in creating a sense of cultural diplomacy and helps make it stronger and more rooted.

When confronted with the culture, politics, economy, and people of another country through this means, the people of the country can participate in the formulation and implementation of different policies in relation to the culture and external relations of the country. 

These programs not only help in the wholesome development of an individual, but also cater to a greater need, the fostering, and strengthening of international relations between countries, and to create mutual understanding amongst them. 


Cross-cultural exchanges are emerging as a new way of improving and bettering relations between nations in the current times. The only way that one country can genuinely form a concrete understanding of the needs and resources of another country is to first start the search for such an understanding at the grass-root level. To create a better and more inclusive nation, the nation must start by first making its people more inclusive, which is the main objective of the advent of such exchanges in the country. 


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