Being an exchange student in a foreign country is a fascinating, worldview-changing experience. It helps you broaden your horizons, break out of your comfort zone, learn more about yourself.
But all these things don’t just happen by themselves. In order to turn your exchange into a pleasant and educational experience, you should work hard and, which is probably the most important, have realistic expectations, both about yourself and about your exchange family. What do we mean by this? Let’s take a look.
1. The Purposes of Student Exchange
Exchange student program is neither an extended school vacation, nor a cheap overseas trip with lodgings, nor a summer camp. You go to another country to learn a new language (or improve your knowledge of it), experience different culture, and see life in another cultural context. If you perceive the exchange as something else, e.g., a tourist trip, both you and your host family will be gravely disappointed.
You are going to be separated from your family, friends, acquaintances, then entire world you are used to and comfortable with, for a considerable period of time. You will have to get accommodated to your new environment, accept your host family as, well, family, allow it to become your support group in this strange and foreign world and, ideally, to become at home there. You won’t be able to do it if you cannot imagine your life without people, things and arrangements you are used to. Are you ready for it?
3. Rules of the Program and the Host Family
In addition to rules of the program there are rules of your host family. They are not arbitrary, no matter how different they are from what you are used to at home. And you should be ready to follow them – remember, you are a guest, and the host family accepts you and accompanying expenses and inconveniences completely voluntary. Respect this, for if you don’t, it may eventually send you home prematurely.
It applies both to what you write in your application/profile and to your behavior while on exchange. If you write that you are OK with any kind of placement, don’t be surprised and resentful if you land with something you don’t like. But if you are too choosy there may simply be no host families acceptable for you. Try to find a middle ground. Be honest while on stay – if there are problems, talk them over with a representative of your exchange organization or your host family.
5. Beware of Expectations
Exchange is always a lottery, and it is impossible for everybody to get exactly what he or she wants. Be reasonable about what you expect and don’t expect too much – the exchange organization makes sure you get a clean and safe home, but all the rest is a gamble. Prepare to be thankful for what you get, not to demand something that is your due.
Being an exchange student may be either a wonderful experience or a nightmare both for you and your host family – and what it will be, depends to a great extent on you.