In the late 1990s, Jeanne Palyok had an idea which Rick, her son, then carried out. Jeanne, then a Dreher High School French teacher, felt that South Carolina schools would benefit from a global exchange of ideas, cultural idiosyncrasies and varied teaching experiences that visiting foreign teachers would bring to the table. Rick, then a travel agency owner, became chief executive officer of his mother’s new organization: Foreign Academic & Cultural Exchange Services, Inc.
The Palyoks moved to Columbia via Fort Jackson in 1960 when Rick’s father was stationed here. Jeanne combined her love of education with her son’s experience of owning a travel agency to pattern FACES after student exchange programs. She had previously hosted student groups from Columbia area schools on trips to France, and she was involved in a foreign teacher mentoring program out of Raleigh, North Carolina. Similarly structured like a foreign student exchange program, FACES provides teachers the opportunity to teach in South Carolina and share perspectives and experiences.
Rick brought the first group of teachers from Romania. He traveled there in 1999, helped 17 Romanian educators process passports and visas and escorted them to South Carolina. The experience was so successful that FACES began recruiting other teachers in other countries. Currently, there are 127 exchange teachers representing 13 countries, according to Rick, still CEO.
Teachers in the FACES program are provided a J-1 Visa, which allows them to remain in South Carolina for up to three years. After that time, FACES can apply for an individual teacher to remain for an additional two years if the teacher desires.
In order to attract teachers globally, FACES advertises in newspapers in major world capitals; plus, there are ads on different Internet sites. In addition, FACES is known worldwide at universities, colleges and educational organizations. Sometimes, FACES representatives travel to countries and give presentations.
FACES has established a detailed application process. Those interested must first apply online — providing not only education and teaching experience, but English proficiency and relevant personal information. Those who meet basic requirements must then submit documents such as transcripts, letters of reference and criminal record clearance. Finally, there is an interview process through Skype™.
Selected teachers receive placement at a South Carolina school, and air travel to the United States and back to their native countries. Representatives of FACES meet them at the airport, and teachers are taken to a hotel. After participating in a six-day orientation process, which includes setting up a bank account and learning aspects of the American culture, teachers are assisted with housing and settled into a community near the school where they will teach.
Since the late 1990s, more than 1,100 FACES teachers have taught in 43 different school districts in South Carolina.
“One of the greatest benefits for students is getting to experience the world from a broader perspective — a foreign teacher — and learning there are cultures different than theirs,” says Rick.