We sat down with Matt Smith, Executive Vice President of International Exchange Programs, to talk about his many years of experience with academic exchange, and his passion for travel and cultural sharing.
When did you start working with CIEE?
I officially began my employment with CIEE on October 2, 2018. However, I was a CIEE participant on a work/travel program to France in 1993 and I collaborated closely with CIEE on many initiatives in the exchange space for much of my career in the industry.
How long have you worked with high school exchange programs?
I started working in the high school exchange program sphere in 1996 and have been in it ever since, running programs both domestically and internationally. I have also been a host family and a local coordinator in the past to high school J-1 students.
What is your best memory related to high school exchange programs (personal or professional)?
Working with high school exchange programs, there is a real blend between the personal and the professional. As mentioned above, I not only ran the programs around the world, I brought them to my own community. Facilitating these types of exchanges is incredibly fulfilling but also requires an enormous amount of hard work and dedication. I would never have been able to be successful with high school exchanges without the commitment and support of so many wonderful staff, local coordinators, host families, international partners and schools. In reflecting on my career, my best memories with high school exchange come from the way in which the professional relationships formed with the previously mentioned stakeholders in turn developed into strong personal friendships.
What is your favorite place that you’ve ever traveled to and why?
One reason I got involved in international exchange was because I hoped it would take me to lots of different places around the world. I have been fortunate and it really has helped me see a lot of the world. But, what I did not anticipate was how it would give me the opportunity to visit so many communities within the United States and, if I had to choose a favorite place, I would have a hard time picking between some of the towns I have visited in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon or Texas. I’ve learned a lot about the United States in these roles and have met and been welcomed in many communities by many wonderful people over the years. Visiting the communities and talking to students on program is where I like to be.
What is your secret superpower?
I get along well with others. I enjoy meeting new people, making connections and working collaboratively and I think this is a strength.
What is the one thing you wish that all American high schools knew about hosting international exchange students?
At different times over the years as we have been working to enroll international students in American high schools, I felt that sometimes school officials were overly focused on reservations and potential challenges instead of the enormous benefits that come from introducing different perspectives into the school and community. These programs have been around for a long time with a strong record of success. Adding international students to the student body is easy, fun, life-changing and enhances the experience of everyone in the school community.