This past summer more than 300 high school graduates signed up for a unique student exchange program. Unlike the well-known foreign exchange model that affords students a chance to study abroad, this program gives students the opportunity to soak in a brand-new culture without ever leaving the country.
the American Exchange Project, or AEP for short, co-founded by 29-year-old David McCullough III, grandson of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough. “We fund kids to spend a week in the summer after senior year in an American town that is politically and socio-economically and culturally very different from the one that they’re growing up in,” McCullough said.
McCullough described the origins of AEP: “I grew up in the Ivory Tower, like, a life of enormous privilege. I wanted to get out of all of that and see a part of the country that I wasn’t exposed to, but I knew was out there.” In 2016, he borrowed his mom’s car and spent two months driving across the country, experiencing all social and political backgrounds. He said “I thought I’d be chased away. I thought doors would be slammed in my face. I thought people wouldn’t want to talk to me. And not only did that not happen, but the opposite of that happened everywhere I went.”
For the past three years he’s been giving high school graduates that same experience, and so far at least, it’s having the impact he hoped it would. Young adults in the program say it was a bonding experience that was out of this world. McCullough hopes to offer the program to a million students a year by decade’s end, and all free of charge, thanks to big name donors, including the likes of Steven Spielberg. “I think this all ought to be as typical to the American high school experience as the prom,” McCullough said. “I think every kid in every town should have an experience like this.”