“The most wonderful job for man is to unite man.”
CEI founding motto, 1947
(from The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry)
(Adapted from: About Our Institution: Federation EIL – Collective Histories, edited by Alvino Fantini.)
The Centre d‘Échanges Internationaux (CEI) was founded in 1947 after World War II to promote exchange between young people from France and Germany and to contribute to the creation of lasting peace. More than ninety countries are involved with CEI programs today following 65 years of dynamic activity.
In 2001, CEI joined as the French member of The Federation of The Experiment in International Living. As such, CEI mainly organises programs in France for groups of young Americans. Through this Summer Abroad program, participants have four week homestays to discover French culture through varied and engaging themes: theatre, painting, photography, gastronomy, hiking, and so forth.
“Since then, exchanges with other Federation member countries continue to develop and advance, notably with the participation in programs with secondary schools,” reports José Luis Ponti, CEI’s International Sales Director.
In 2007, CEI celebrated its 60th anniversary and held a series of events to mark this milestone. Two of the most important were: publication of the book: Opening the World to Young People, created by a journalist in collaboration with Guillaume Dufresne, Director General of CEI. The work recounts the history of CEI with testimonies from the founders, former collaborators, and organisers.
“The high point of the festivities was a reception held at city hall in Paris with more than 300 people – a very powerful and emotional time for all the attendees,” reports Guillaume. “The world has changed enormously since our founding,” he says. “How does we continue to fulfill our mandate in a world where information is instant and global, and where young people are permanently connected to several social networks? CEI closely follows these movements in order to adapt its programs to new circumstances.”
Despite this flow of information, Guillaume contends that, “Travel, international encounters, trips abroad, and knowledge of foreign languages are more typical than ever before. Knowledge cannot be obtained through a computer screen or a cell phone alone, but instead through real life experiences – through sojourns with families, attending schools and living in university dormitories, and working abroad.”
CEI continues to follow its mandate with the aid of its expertise and the quality and reliability of its partners. To achieve this, CEI continues to increase its teams in France and abroad. Both the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry for Youth regularly entrust CEI with the task of putting together experiential programs to further the development of exchange activities. In 2012 CEI’s programs enrolled some 92 nationalities.
“Of course, much remains to be done to achieve mutual understanding on our planet in order to ensure happiness among its seven billion inhabitants,” says Guillaume. “Yet, CEI has been modestly trying to do just this . . . since 1947.”
About Guillaume Dufresne, Director General of Centre d’Echanges Internationaux–Guillaume has been involved in education and educational youth exchange for more than 30 years. He has served as Director General of CEI with headquarters in Paris, France, since 1983.
About José Luis Ponti, International Sales Director, CEI—Jose Luis works closely with Federation EIL, representing CEI at the annual General Assembly for the Federation. A native of Argentina, Jose Luis studied abroad at the age of 16, and has lived in France for more than 35 years.