If you are a prospective exchange student, then you may have mixed feeling about the experience.
While it is exciting to live in a foreign country, it is also daunting to spend time away from home in a new country, amongst new people. But don’t worry. We are here to help you.
Before you Find Foreign Exchange Programs, read these important tips to help you know what to expect from your experience and how prepare yourself mentally for the challenge.
You will not the only one who speaks English
Of the biggest concerns we face as an outsider in a new country is the language barrier. For example, if you are traveling to Spain for your exchange program, then you may wondering if you will be the only English speaking person in the country? How will you communicate with others? How will you talk to the locals? These are some scary and debilitating thoughts but the good news is that you will find plenty of people who speak English. In fact, you will be surprised who many students speak English more than they speak their own language!
Treat it like your home, but it is not your home
As an exchange student, the one experience that will feature big in your entire stay duration is the stay with your host family. Students are often encouraged to treat the host families as their own families and their homes as their own. While in principle this is a good practice but it should not be taken literally. Don’t forget that you are a guest in their home and that you would always have to respect that boundary. You will have to follow their ways and maintain the sanctity of their homes as they do.
It is going to be awkward at first living with strangers. However, as you learn to adjust to their ways, it will become more comfortable and you will be able to do things on your own such as heling yourself to a snack from the kitchen without asking or taking an extra blanket from the cupboard. But there will be things that are different from your actual home and you just can’t do it the way you normally do. For example, wearing shoes inside homes in some countries like Japan is completely prohibited.
Do what you think is best
There is plenty of advice online about how to be an exchange student, do’s and don’ts, rights and wrongs. All this information can be incredibly confusing as well as overwhelming. Needless to say, you would have to follow the rules set by the exchange facilitator but you would also have to do the things that keep you happy and confident about your experience. Not approaching this with the right mindset is the quickest way to slip into depression. After all, you are in a new place with new people who barely understand your ways of life!
It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and step outside your comfort zone. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot connect with friends and family back home. Speak with them on a regular basis, share your experiences with them, tell them if you feel challenged by this new place. You should not hesitate to seek support if you are feeling down or finding it hard to cope.
Don’t worry if you feel sadder after each conversation with your parents and friends. You need to understand that it is part of the learning process that will strengthen you to deal with these challenges later in life. You must embrace these sad moments as you do the happy ones. You can also take your mind off by going for a walk, listening to music, or engaging with your host family for some warmth away from home. An exchange program is a great opportunity to grow your emotional maturity.
Make the most of this experience
It is ok not to have big plans every day and you don’t have to make every day count either. Just remember to say yes more than no. Of course there will be times when you want to simply be in your own zone and relax over the weekend. But if you find yourself turning down activities with your classmates or host families more often than you should, then you are not making the most of your exchange opportunity. The best way to avoid losing out is to say yes more. Just walk around, explore the city that will be your home for the next few months, make new friends, and try to live like a local.
Keep all these things in your mind when you are looking for an exchange program so that you can visit with an open mind.