John A. Wallace. The Experiment in International Living. Opening Doors Worldwide. Putney, VT: Whetstone, 1996
In creating the Independent Study Program, The Experiment---and its School for International Training---made a move which put it into direct competition with many American colleges and universities. In doing so it sought to recapture a clientele which it had, in a major sense, lost.
Donald Watt's first group of Experimenters were all of secondary school age, as were the groups which followed in 1933 and 1934. Increasingly, however, the program's appeal reached students in the colleges and universities. By the mid-fifties, 80 percent of the Experimenters in groups to Europe, Mexico, and the United States were of university age; a mere 20 percent from secondary schools And even in the case of secondary schools there were strict age requirements, established to prevent the participation of fifteen- and sixteen-year-old boys and girls.
From the mid-fifties onward the percentage of college age participants began a steady decline. There were three reasons for this, all beyond the control of The Experiment.
Given these factors, it should come as no surprise to learn that by the mid-seventies college-age Experimenters were conspicuous by their absence from the traditional summer Experiment.
Looking at the other half of Experiment movement---to rather than from the United States---the three factors cited above loom less influential. Factor number one played no part whatsoever; academic international programs under university sponsorship simply did not exist. Much the same was true of factor number two. Summer vacation work experience was not part of the cultural pattern in most of the European and Latin American nations functioning within The Experiment. The influence of factor number three slowly expanded, although it was restricted significantly by language capabilities. The go-it-alone American Experimenter in Europe or Latin America was invariably able, in time of need, to find someone from the local culture who could speak to him in English. The Dutch, Danish, German, French, Mexican, or Chilean wanderer in the United States might move from one crisis to the next without finding anyone to help him in his own language.
The factors described above precipitated many lengthy discussions in the International Council about: Who should decide the minimum age for groups---the receiving office which has to place them in homestays or the sending office which has to recruit and select them? Should college and secondary school students be included in the same group? As more and more males opt for solo travel do we move to organize all-female groups? Corollary to the above---must an all-female group have a female leader? Should leaders of high school age groups be given more "command" authority than those of college age groups?
The list goes on. The consideration of questions such as these dominated the decade between 1964 and 1974. In essence these questions reflect the accelerating effects of competition, a changing clientele, and the sad realization that the phenomenal growth of the previous ten years had come to an end. The curves which had always sloped upward had leveled off and were in some cases turning downward.
Three other competitive factors were at work to inhibit further growth in The Experiment's basic traditional program.
First, in a previous chapter mention was made of the American Field Service and its success in recruiting high school age students for its highly subsidized programs, both those for a summer only and those for a full academic year. AFS had by now expanded into almost every nation in which there was an Experiment office. AFS thus offered direct and successful competition for all elements of The Experiment.
Youth For Understanding, almost a carbon copy of AFS and an organization with widespread subsidy and support from religious groups, was the second strongest competitor to The Experiment, after AFS.
Secondly, local secondary school entrepreneurs began competing with The Experiment. They emerged in somewhat the same manner as college overseas academic programs had been spawned by the Fulbright returnees.
A high school teacher, usually of social studies, foreign languages, or literature, would return to her or his school after a summertime leadership experience with The Experiment, AFS, or some similar organization. Much that he or she had seen and experienced in such a program would be reported to local high school audiences both in and out of the classroom. What more natural than for that teacher to decide that "next summer I could probably find enough students right here in school to make up a group for me to lead back to where I had such a great time last summer."
To the extent that many of these local entrepreneurs had been Experiment group leaders---and in a few cases members of college-age groups---The Experiment had in effect been training its future competitors.
The impact of this form of competition precipitated yet another intensive multinational discussion. The issue was phrased in this manner; since these programs that are initiated by a local secondary school teacher put him or her in an advantageous position to recruit a group of local participants, perhaps The Experiment should actively promote teachers putting together such groups?
The ultimate answer to this question was in the negative and centered on the issue of selection of participants. "If we encourage a local teacher to recruit a group with the assurance that The Experiment will program the group, the selection of group members will be out of our hands. We could end up with some utterly unqualified Experimenters."
Was this a "holier than thou" policy?
In the fifties and sixties selection of participants by The Experiment had been a position based firmly in principle. Those were the days of ten-page application forms, the time of careful review of applications, and actual rejection of those clearly unqualified. By the early seventies, selection was becoming less and less rigorous, more and more automatic.
In retrospect The Experiment may have made the wrong decision in failing to try to coopt the burgeoning local secondary-school-initiated programs, at least in the United States.
Thirdly, a third major competitor moved into position, the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). It was the lineal descendant of the Committee for the Correlation of International Educational Enterprises (1947), the Committee on Student Ships (1948) and the Council on Student Travel (1951).
The Experiment had been involved in this organization since its inception. It had helped the CIEE to develop its major function of providing and coordinating international travel arrangements for groups involved in exchange programs. The Experiment and scores of other organizations, colleges and universities maintained membership in CIEE and used its services annually.
In the early seventies, however, CIEE began to organize and conduct a set of CIEE-sponsored exchange programs both at the secondary school level and the post-secondary level. The Experiment thus found itself---through dues payments and commissions on space used---in the position of helping to support a major competitor. Relations between the two organizations became steadily worse as a result.
Although the competitive elements cited above all originated in the United States their effect was universal in Experiment terms. AFS and YFU had their central offices in the United States, but they established branch offices in most of the nations of western Europe plus others in Asia and Latin America. Inasmuch as both organizations operated two-way programs their effect on offices in such nations as Denmark, Mexico, and Spain was felt as strongly as it was being felt in the U.S. national office.
CIEE also maintained a major office in Paris and from that office actively recruited European participants for its own programs, competing directly with long- established Experiment offices.
Even the localized secondary school programs which The Experiment had backed away from affected other offices than that in the United States, largely through the loss of host communities. Take the case of a typical secondary school teacher of French who had led an Experiment group to France. The teacher, who now proposed to take a group of her or his students to France, often wrote directly to her or his recent host family asking that the group be hosted in that community where he or she had been so well hosted previously. Out of personal friendship the former Experiment host community thus became identified with an American secondary school and was lost, at least temporarily, to The Experiment.
The effect on Experiment national offices of what might properly be called U.S. -originating competition was strong. An eighteen-year-old European, who was offered a program in the United States consisting of an eight-week homestay plus a week of travel for $700, with AFS or YFU covering all other costs from its local subsidy resources, would hardly be inclined to purchase a similar program through The Experiment for, let's say, $1,200.
Similarly, a European university student considering an individual Experiment homestay in the United States at a price of $400 airfare and $250 administrative fees would be sorely tempted by a CIEE offer of a summer camp counselor position which paid a stipend of $50 per week.
Far more profound, however, than the impact of these U.S.-originating programs on the typical non-U.S. office, was the effect of the many student travel organizations spawned in their own nations by the accelerating demand for cross-cultural programs. Many of these organizations received substantial governmental assistance from some such agency as a Ministry of Sports and Youth, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture, etc. They were quasi-official and with such qualification had far easier access to the youth market than The Experiment.
A few of these organizations such as the Youth Hostel Association and various groups under the title National Union of Students had been functioning as long as had The Experiment. Most, however, had emerged after World War II. Below is presented a sampling of such organizations. Although only twenty have been listed, one could have extended the list into the hundreds.
It should be obvious from their titles that not all of these new organizations offered host family homestays. What all of them did seek to offer, however, were low cost options for young men and women seeking an experience in cultures other than their own.
In doing so they competed with Experiment offices; and with their frequent subsidy from governments seeking to encourage youth travel they were indeed formidable competition.