History

World Learning was founded by Dr. Donald Watt in 1932 as The Experiment in International Living. It was inspired by his belief that sending Americans abroad would expand their worldview, build cross-cultural friendships, and develop mutual understanding and respect between people.

With that goal in mind, he and the first Experiment group of 23 young men departed New York on a ship bound for Europe to attend a summer camp with Swiss and German teenagers. Those students became trailblazers for thousands who have followed in their footsteps. The American students returned home transformed. They had a different outlook on the world, new leadership and communication skills, and were able to collaborate with others. The following summer The Experiment became the first program to offer “homestays,” in which American students lived with host families, fully immersing themselves in a different culture in a personal, meaningful way.

Today, The Experiment, is the flagship program of World Learning, annually sending more than 600 U.S. teenagers on life-changing summer abroad experiences in small-groups to different regions and concentrated on a number of academic themes. Over the decades, World Learning built on The Experiment’s experience and success to become a thriving global nonprofit organization made up of The Experiment, SIT Study Abroad, SIT Graduate Institute, and Global Development & Exchange programs.

In 1961, President John Kennedy tapped Sargent Shriver, one of the original Experimenters, to become the first director of the newly formed Peace Corps. Shriver drew upon his experiences with The Experiment to craft the Peace Corps’ founding principles and ultimately invited The Experiment to help train the first volunteers prior to their deployments.

Inspired by this work, The Experiment founded the School for International Training in 1964 to prepare students from across the globe to be effective leaders, professionals, and citizens. The School for International Training eventually evolved into a number of internationally-focused institutes and programs. SIT Graduate Institute offers internationally focused on-campus and low-residency master’s degrees as well as certificate and professional development programs. SIT Study Abroad has more than 70 study abroad programs for undergraduate students in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East, in addition to 30 comparative programs in multiple locations through its International Honors Program (IHP).

In the mid-1970s the organization began putting decades of experience into practice around the world through the Projects and Grants unit, which manages grant-funded assistance programs in developing countries. World Learning also focused on expanding its portfolio of U.S.-government sponsored inbound international exchange programs and these two units eventually merged to become the organization’s Global Development & Exchange programs. Today, World Learning runs development programs in more than 100 countries aimed at expanding access to quality education, fostering youth leadership, improving economic opportunities, and promoting citizen engagement and good governance. Our exchange programs now bring more than 2,000 emerging leaders from 140 countries to the U.S. every year on international professional, academic, and youth exchanges.

Our mission is to empower people, communities and strengthen institutions. We do this through international exchanges, quality education, and sustainable development programs. The common thread running through all of World Learning’s programs since the very beginning is our dedication to creating the change required for a more equal prosperous, and peaceful world.

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