A student exchange is not just your average trip abroad – it is a lesson for life. Whether you go abroad for just a few weeks or for a year, there are some important things that you will learn while living – even for a little while – in a foreign environment.
We recently published a blog post Why Every Student Should Travel Abroad and explained the benefits of student travel. After having sent off a group of Italian language students on their exchange last week, I want to be a bit more specific about the home stay concept. Here are the 8 most important things you learn while being an exchange student.
This might sound a bit scary to you, but being plunged headfirst into a foreign culture will simply force you to come out of your shell and adapt to the environment. It was Neale Donald Walsch who said: ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’. And it cannot be more true. Not only does it teach you valuable skills, but it’s also a lot of fun! You make new friends, you learn to love the host family and culture and you will be SO proud of yourself at the end of your stay.
Once you get over the ‘culture shock’ (which is not necessarily a shock, but usually more of a great surprise) you will find that you do a lot of things you wouldn’t do at home. Not only will you speak to new people in a foreign language, but you will also do things like studying city maps, catching public transport, going to after school activities with your host brother or sister, playing new sports and so much more. I’m sure your host parents will do their best to support you, but you still have to learn how to manage on your own. As an exchange student you won’t have mum or dad to remind you of grabbing your lunch before leaving the house in the morning! And while your parents back home probably can’t see you coping on your own, they’ll be even more impressed with how independent you’ve become upon your return.
I’d say, when you go abroad you learn just as much about your own country as about the country you’re visiting. And I mean not necessarily facts about Australia, but more the way it is perceived by most Europeans. You think about a country – for example Italy – and think about Pizza, Pasta, Gelato, Wine, Coffee, Family, ‘in-your-face-beauty’, maybe the Vatican, ancient Rome and Soccer. But do you know what Italians think and seem to know about Australia? You’ll be surprised.
Staying in a foreign country and noticing the cultural differences also gives you the chance to reflect on the ways we do things here. What’s better, what’s worse and what’s just different but works in each country?
As much as you LOVE living with a wonderful host family and trying new things, there’s still no place like home. Not only will you miss your family and friends, but also things that you can’t get on the other side of the world. (Craving a Vegemite sandwich is totally normal!). The great thing about that is that you learn to appreciate and love your own culture so much more. Plus, with the internet and so many social networks available, you don’t feel completely isolated from home – your family or friends are just a message or call away.
Every culture is different. And while you can read a lot about it, you won’t understand it until you’re actually there. Seeing and LIVING a new way of life is an amazing, eye-opening experience that will make you see the world through different eyes.
Not knowing many people, you may find that you feel a bit lonely at times. Again, this is not a bad thing – it’s just all part of the learning process. A great way to go about this is to look at the little things. for example getting to know somebody new, a compliment, the sun, lunch with friends, a hug from your host brother or sister… The list is endless. You will appreciate these things so much more when in a foreign environment.
Having organised student exchange programs for many years now, we know that our students often return with life-long friends. But it doesn’t stop there. Friends who found each other during the homestay program have visited each other and even introduced the families to each other. Who knows… You might find a travel companion for your future adventure in your host brother or sister!
“One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.” — Edith Wharton. As an exchange student, you will be surprised how many kind people you meet. It doesn’t even matter which country you go to! Host families and classmates are always super excited to meet new people from a different country and will treat you very special. Enjoy it!