In 1932, The Experiment in International Living launched the first immersive international exchange program for young Americans to learn about other cultures. Over the next nine decades, The Experiment has changed the lives of tens of thousands of students from all walks of life. What’s more, the program’s core values—education for global leadership, peace, and international understanding—have become the heartbeat of World Learning, the global organization that emerged from that first experiment in 1932.
Today, World Learning Inc. includes our flagship program, The Experiment; School for International Training, a global education institution; and World Learning, an international development and exchange organization. Guided by the mission to build a more just and peaceful world, these three branches have opened the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of people the world over.
The original “experiment” was the brainchild of sociologist Dr. Donald Watt of Syracuse University. Guided by the belief that people learn to live together by living together, he organized a trip for two dozen U.S. college students to travel by ship to Europe to attend a summer camp with their Swiss and German counterparts.
That integration didn’t go quite as Watt had envisioned because language immersion proved challenging, according to Alvino Fantini, SIT professor emeritus and head of institutional archives.
The second summer, Watt introduced a month-long homestay that created a true language immersion for U.S. students and built special, sometimes lifelong, bonds between the young participants and their local host families. That homestay experience remains a cornerstone of The Experiment and the SIT programs that emerged from it.
In the 1960s, a former Experimenter and The Experiment youth leader named Sargent Shriver was tagged by his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, to lead a new federal program called the Peace Corps. Shriver turned to The Experiment for language expertise, and its Vermont campus became one of the original language training sites for outbound Peace Corps volunteers.
In 1964, that center was named School for International Training. Today, SIT Graduate Institute continues to offer leading-edge language training in addition to master’s programs and a doctorate in a wide range of global subjects, and SIT Study Abroad provides undergraduates with immersive study abroad experiences on every continent.
Eventually, under the umbrella of World Learning Inc., the organization added World Learning international exchange and development programs as part of a vibrant and resilient nonprofit organization with global impact.
Since 1932, The Experiment, SIT, and World Learning have fostered intercultural competency and understanding between people as a way to bring the world closer together. It was an “experiment” that worked—one that continues to take new approaches, adapt to new challenges, and transform lives.