How to Decide Where to Go on Exchange

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The world is your oyster, as they say. But where should you plan to go on your exchange program? You could literally go anywhere in the world, as long as your parents agree to the plan, and it’s not always easy to narrow down the scope. Here are some questions that should help you to narrow your focus. Your experience isn’t all about sitting in school chairs. There is so much more to an exchange program and you want to make sure that you embrace every opportunity that you are offered.

1. Is there a language that you are trying to learn? If so, you should go to a country that speaks that language and immerse yourself in the language.

2. Have you visited a certain country that you already love and want to go back?

3. Do you have connections somewhere so that you’ll have an easy landing and more support?

4. Do you want to go really far away from home or stay closer by?

5. Do you have enough money to go to a rather expensive location or should you look for some of the cheaper places to live?

Spotlight on One Exchange Program

yes-yfuOne well known exchange program is called Youth for Understanding (YFU) which grew out of a connection between Germany and the United States. In 1951, there was a proposal brought to church leaders in Michigan, USA that teenagers from Germany be brought to live with families and go to American high schools for a year. 75 Germany teens arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan in July 1951.

Today, YFU is one of the longest standing of the international educational exchange programs. As their website says “YFU organizations around the world have exchanged close to 250,000 students. In one year alone, approximately 4,000 students will participate in YFU programs worldwide. Through the exchange experience, YFU students gain skills and perspectives necessary to meet the challenges of and benefit from the opportunities the fast-changing global community has to offer.”

Whether sitting in classrooms with classroom furniture, meeting new families or learning about cultural differences, the students gain a great deal each year from the experience.

Coffee in Australia? Not Your Local Starbucks

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Certainly, when students study abroad they learn a great deal about the different educational systems. They learn about classroom designs, classroom furniture, classroom curriculum and the like. But it’s often even more interesting to hear what they learn about the location itself. It’s often the simple differences among cultures that make for the most interesting experiences and that make people appreciate their own culture (or enjoy that of another people).

Here, in an article written by Georgia DuCharme, a student at the University of Pittsburgh who spent a semester abroad in Australia with TEAN, she looks at the differences in coffee. As she writes, “Coffee-drinking is a completely different animal in Australia in a few different ways.”

She describes that the coffee in Australia is stronger, comes in smaller sizes and has higher prices. Another difference that she describes is quite fascinating. As she wrote, “The reason I’ve been caffeine-deprived is due largely to the coffee culture itself. In America, by contrast, you might have your morning coffee at home and then go to your local Starbucks to grab a second in the afternoon. Nobody will judge you if you go in, order your coffee, and leave with it 5 minutes later. But in Australia, you are expected to sit down and enjoy your drink, as the barista painstakingly made it for you individually. You have to allot a certain amount of time to drink your coffee, and you would want to anyway, because it’s so rich, and you don’t want to just gulp it down like you would in the States.”

Baby Steps Towards Foreign Exchange

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Being an exchange student isn’t for everyone. However, many people who are fearful of change could still greatly benefit from joining a program of this sort. For those who are too scared to simply pack their bag and head to a foreign country alone, here are some suggestions for still enjoying a program of this sort:

1. Go with a friend. It’s always scary to do things alone, and taking a friend along might just be the answer. Make sure it’s a good friend and someone that you can really rely upon.

2. Go to a country that speaks your language. No one said that you have to go to a country that speaks a different language. You can still enjoy your time in Australia, New Zealand, London or another English speaking country and can still gain a great deal from being an exchange student.

3. Do a short trip. You don’t have to become an exchange student for a year, sitting in foreign classroom furniture and trying to pass exams in another country. Go for a six week trip instead. Go for a summer, when there isn’t any school.

If you’re interested in the exchange process, but are scared to take the leap, there are certainly ways that you can do so with baby steps.

Jump In With the Chores

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You’re about to fly off to a strange country for six months and be part of someone else’s family. What tips will help you to succeed on this adventure?

Make sure that you can stick to the rules that the family makes. You aren’t any different than the other kids living in the house, and you need to abide by the rules that they create. This is not the time to challenge parents, especially ones that aren’t yours. Express appreciation often. If the family takes you out for ice cream or for an adventure, make sure to say thank you.

Be willing to try new things. You’ve come on a new adventure for a reason. You want to learn and experience this new place. Keep your options open and be willing to try foods that are different, adventures that may seem scary and new places.

Offer to cook for your host family if you know how to cook and offer to be part of the chores of the house. Try to find a balance between enjoying time alone and spending time with your family. Sometimes you’ll want to be alone – but you don’t want your host family to think that you don’t like them and that you want to be by yourself all the time.

While you may be spending time in a school in the new country, your education does not end with the classroom furniture. Realize that every experience you have during this entire time is part of your growth process and your education. Enjoy!

Being a Good Host

There is a lot written about being a respectful and helpful exchange student, but less is written about the type of host that someone should be. Certainly, a major part of the exchange student’s experience is going to be based on the experience they have with the host family. Here are some tips for being a good host.
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1. Create an inviting bedroom environment. If it’s possible, let the student live by himself. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but at least make sure that they have their own space carved out and respected. But extra school chairs or school desks in the bedroom so that they will have their own study space as well.

2. Try to communicate with them before they arrive. The longer that you have email and phone correspondences, the more comfortable they will already feel when they arrive. You can also see ahead of time if you think that you really won’t be a match and you might be able to call it off before it starts if you think that is necessary.

3. Try to quickly integrate them with other students. If you have a similarly aged child, ask your child to bring them around to have them meet the other kids. If you don’t have a child of this age, try to connect with someone in your community and ask them to show your exchange student around.

4. Have expectations for them around the house. If your children have chores and obligations, then the exchange student should as well. Don’t treat them differently than your own children.