The History of EIL

Destined for the French port of Boulogne, the S.S. General von Steuben sailed out of New York harbour on June 23, 1932 carrying twenty-three idealistic young men and their leader, Donald B. Watt. The first ‘experiment in international living’ was underway. It was a simple idea: “People learn to live together by living together.” 80 years later, that simple idea endures and thrives under the trusted care of Federation EIL members around the world who take pride in providing an innovative range of intercultural, educational services. Each year thousands of people of all ages participate in EIL programs in Europe, The Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Federation EIL


The Experiment in International Living was founded by an American, Donald Watt, the son of an immigrant from the Orkney islands. In 1936, Britain joined EIL and that year a group of young Americans arrived for a homestay and hiking in Scotland. In the early years the organisation was completely voluntary. Local Representatives ran hosting communities and concentrated on receiving incoming groups of international high school students during the summer.

The first outbound European group to the USA in 1957 included Jim Elphick, destined to be Director of the British Experiment a year later. Jim and Mary Elphick set up office and home in Malvern, Worcestershire and started to develop new programmes along with a Trust for Education in International Living which was established in 1965.

Our office initially worked with partners in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Ethiopia and Sudan and slowly groups and individuals started to arrive from all over the world for a British homestay. Over the next few decades we received international participants from Europe, Africa, Central and South America and Asia. The mission of the Experiment in International Living “to provide participants with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to enable them to contribute personally to international understanding and global development” remains as valid today as it did then.