Ethical Business: PIE- International Exchange Programme


PIE is an association offering an opportunity for young people to get an experience abroad that they will remember. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and host families each year, many adventurers leave their home for a year to become part of a new family in a foreign country. We are talking about youngsters aged between 14 and 18. Yep! It takes some guts to embark upon this journey of discovery! That’s why PIE are here to support them from the very early stage to the moment they return to their family. We will discover how amazingly well they do their job…


As part of our job is to be an insider, I actually spent 10 days working with them- and I felt it was a privilege! Not only I saw the backstage of the organisation, but I was right in the middle of the adventure while getting to know the kids and the team. I witnessed how this first week already had an impact and we wanted to share this experience with you.


PIE has a network of volunteers and host families welcoming young international students coming from all over the world: Americans, Japanese, Taiwanese or Mexicans. They will be studying in France for a year. French students also have the opportunity to do the same in the United States. Host families offer a home to those teenagers including them in the family tradition, and giving them time without earning any income from it.

So what makes those families decide to take the leap and make such a commitment?

Sarah Gonzales, Manager for the Paris region answers this question by telling us more about PIE and the values that drive their staff as well as the volunteers: “Tolerance and volunteering are the most important values of our association. Every family gives time, money and energy. However they get more from it than they had anticipated. They create this relationship with a kid who makes them discover so many things. They are a new member of your family, it opens your eyes, and you share an experience that you wouldn't be able to share otherwise. Seeing the kid change, thanks to you.. It’s amazing. Those kids are adapting, learning... They feel better, they feel stronger. You don’t know initially how it is going to go but you can see that they are changing, that they are becoming happier. They have international contacts and you think to yourself -I did this. You feel helpful, useful. It is not just a positive action, it is a visible action because you open your door and you see the benefits of it. You are entirely part of the journey.”


Sarah contacted me to support the group with language classes for 80 students in their centre as part of their initial training. The purpose of those 10 days is to get to know one another, have french language courses, learn about the french culture, and find their marks in a new environment. Then, they would join their host family in different parts of the country.

It was a very intense first few days, as you can imagine. The funny thing is that even if I don't usually work with young people, it was an incredible experience. I got to connect with them on a different level, I could see their amazing potential, their creativity, their values and I even caught myself feeling sad at the end of this training!

So what made it such a valuable project?

1. For a start, the team itself. When you land in an environment where people really care and believe in what they do, it makes a huge difference! Volunteers either used to be students at PIE and wanted to give back, or they just believed in the programme enough to offer their time and energy. Sarah had thoroughly organised every single hour of the planning and you can trust that if something was not going according to plan (as it did happen!), she would be incredibly resourceful, even if it impacted on her personal time. This meant dealing with various calls with the families, the visits, the classes… To me, her commitment reflected the values of the organisation.

2. The other positive aspect was to see how everyone felt at the end of the year. The feedback of the students and families were very promising. Everyone left with a sense of accomplishment: those kids were off to new horizons and we gave our best to make it happen.

3. The growing success of the association is the proof that people do want to share, learn, and be generous with each other. They are willing to open their doors to a new family member and the experience coming out of it is life-changing!


What is your association’s vision and the impact on society?

“Our vision is to facilitate intercultural exchanges. It is about living with people and learning how to understand one another. It allows you to become more tolerant and learn while broadening your vision of the world. You open yourself to others, you understand them and accept them. When you travel this way, you are living an experience that is going to change you. You will become a citizen of the world. I think if everyone could do this, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today.”

Who do you work with and how?

“We work mostly with international partners. 15 different nationalities with different languages. Our approach varies depending on the country we deal with, as the codes are different from one nation to the other. In Japan for instance, what seems important to them doesn’t necessarily apply here and it is true the other way around as well. So when a problem arises, you don’t deal with it the same way as you spontaneously would as you have to take into account the culture. Even the procedures are quite different!”

What are the challenges of PIE?

“Money. Even though we are trying to keep the costs as low as possible, everything increases every year: petrol, insurances and the dollar. Another challenge is everything that is going on in the world at the moment with terrorist attacks. It does have an impact. People are scared, they travel less. Usually we get 80 students in France, but this year we only have 67. We live in a society where people are scared of each other, we are wary. To tackle this, we need people to travel and meet others, and welcome others in our home, but it is not easy to create.”

How do you see PIE in 10 years?

“I hope it will never stop. There are so many countries with incredible potential like India or Thailand but no one wants to go there. Everyone wants to go to the US because it is the country for films, Japan because it is the country for manga, Australia for surfing. It is all about what the media say, what image they convey. In France, it is more challenging to open our doors and we would love to be able to find more families. In the UK, most families know they can receive an income from it, so they prefer that option. PIE is a great association, with a fantastic network, you enjoy so many nice moments, and you meet people from all ages, all backgrounds and all horizons. We help each other. So yes, I hope it will never stop.”

If you want to contribute by hosting young adults, volunteering, or simply knowing more about PIE's work, visit:

PIE Website:


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