Egoism And Cultural Exchange

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Pablo Edronkin

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Egoism is one of the worse shortcomings that any cultural exchange student can show.

Most if not all organisations dedicated to the promotion of cultural exchange programs among teenagers and young adults show a tendency to fall in the trap of numbers when it comes to choosing candidates to live abroad. It is indeed enticing to provide the highest number of slots for the highest number of exchange students but even in this sector quality seems to go against quantity, and while it is commendable to attempt to struggle for understanding among youths, and to teach tolerance among cultures, the fact remains that not every person is suitable for a role like that of an exchange student while the most important factor that decides who goes and who doesn't is the depth of the pockets. So in countries with low income averages or a relatively low population, finding good candidates will always be more difficult, and choosing the best will be challenging if at the same time it is desired to keep the program going. I other words, if the selection of candidates is carried in a country with low economic possibilities or with scarce population, exchange students will be of poorer quality.

In such cases, I believe, it is better not to continue with such programs because sending students at any cost will end up in tears: I witnessed personally what happened with the exchange students coming to Argentina from a low-population country - Norway - between 1987 and 1988 in the case of one of the biggest cultural exchange initiatives: Not a single one of the Norwegian exchange students managed to keep any sort of long-standing contact with their former host families, all of them had adaptation problems during their stay and host families were left - in nine cases out of nine - with rather sad or even bitter memories of their former guests. No Norwegian students of this period kept even mail contact, while in the case of families that hosted students from other places that usually sift thorough more candidates, like Germany and the United States, the success rate reached about fifty percent in the long run.

The problem with the Scandinavian exchange students wasn't financial, being those countries considered wealthy and with a high average income. The problem seems to have been the fact that the population there is small and henceforth, selective processes produce not so good results as in the case of countries with more inhabitants. Of course, it may be the case that compromises should be reached in order to improve exchange programs or even to keep them going, but there are some factors or personality traits were no compromises should be made, no matter what. One of such elements or factors is egoism.

If thorough personality tests the conclusion that any given candidate is an egotistic person, unfortunately that person should be considered unsuitable for a cultural exchange program for a very simple reason that we have mentioned already in other papers: The expression of gratitude towards host families is fundamental to keep such programs at work, and someone who acts egoistically even in his or her own realm, among his or her own family and friends, will hardly act any different in another country, and his or her deeds will become even more damaging due to the fact that cultural differences may aggravate the negative perception about the student among the foster family as well as the locals in the visited country.

This, in turn, will invariably create bad publicity for the program as a whole. If it is difficult enough to find hot families, if it is perceived that volunteering causes more trouble than good, it will become even harder and more expensive. Egoism may appear among any sort of people but youngsters living alone and candidates that have no brothers or sisters are the riskier one. Egoistic individuals have no place in the realm of cultural exchange programs because they are potentially damaging to the whole cause and concept; in any country, even in the poorest ones or those with very low population numbers, looking a little bit more will produce better student candidates than just letting anyone in.

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