Advice for Exchange Students

Shadi, Texas State Fair, 2007

Shadi, Texas State Fair, 2007

We have had one unsuccessful exchange student. I’ll call her Julia. This picture is not of Julia but of Shadi who came the fall after Julia’s departure.

Julia did not even make it to the end of October. I wouldn’t classify her exchange as an exchange student horror or nightmare, but I will say it was a horrible time for myself, my wife, and for undoubtedly for Julia.  I still have a tinge of remorse that we could not save Julia’s exchange, but I am also confident, with six successful exchange students passing through our home, that we and our organization did as much as anyone could to salvage her year.

The saddest part is that the whole episode should have never happened…Julia should never have left on exchange in the first place. Foreign exchange was simply the wrong activity for her and her family, and her ill-advised adventure was doomed before it ever started. I know that Julia has many wonderful qualities and talents… It’s a shame we really never got to see them because her experience overwhelmed her so quickly and completely. Julia, where ever you are, Terri and I wish you a long, happy, and successful life.

Therefore,  partly for cathartic reasons and partly for helping future exchange students and those families contemplating hosting an exchange student, I am contributing this post to the body information that is out on the web. If sometimes the words seem harsh, it’s because I think it is very important to ask serious questions of oneself before committing to an exchange program, and I’m not sure all recruiting organizations go into such detail.

If you say yes to everything, then I think you are probably prepared to be an exchange student. If you say no to one or more items, I think it prudent for you to do some long reflection before continuing on in the exchange student process.

Exchange Student Advice

1. The fundamental purpose of your exchange is to learn a new language and to experience a different culture. This is the big fundamental. This is the point from where most everything about your exchange will succeed or falter. If you understand and believe this statement from the beginning, you will likely achieve positive results. If you dismiss or forget this statement you will likely find conflict and failure.

The purpose of exchange is not to provide you an escape from your natural parents or current life. It is not to provide you with an extended summer activities camp. It is not to provide you with a year of cheap travel. For certain, you will accomplish many other goals and have many other experiences, but you must let most of them find you rather than the other way around. That is the one of the great beauties of student exchange…there are new experiences out there waiting for you that you haven’t even imagined. Don’t block out these new experiences with prior expectations.

Ask yourself, “Is this my purpose?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise looking into a semester, summer or even shorter program, a boarding school, a student travel group, or maybe an extended stay with relatives.

2. Don’t expect your exchange to change you in a particular way. The purpose of exchange is not to change you or to change your life. Remember the fundamental purpose of your exchange. To be sure, you will grow, mature, and develop on your exchange, but that change is unpredictable.  If you are an overly shy person, don’t expect your exchange to magically transform you into an outgoing individual. Being an exchange student requires a certain personality, and the time to develop this personality is not while on exchange.

What is this personality? You need to be independent. You need to like people and like to socialize. You need to be willing to take responsibility for your actions. You need to be compliant with rules and regulation. You need to be willing to laugh at yourself. You need to be open-minded. You need perseverance. If you are a drama queen you may not  have the personality to be a successful exchange student. Neither should you consider an exchange to the United States if you are uncomfortable with associating with students of different religious, ethnic, or economic backgrounds.

Ask yourself, “Do I have right now have the personality to be a successful exchange student?” If the answer is “no”, then wait a year or seek out another type of program.

3. Being an exchange student requires independence. More specifically, this means independence from your parents, and in some cases, independence of your parents from you.  A large part of your success as an exchange student depends upon you developing a support group in your new country. In order to do this, you must be brave enough to break away from the support group, your natural family, that you have known and relied upon your entire life. Make no mistake about it, it does require bravery.

You must be willing to allow your host family and community representative to take over most of the roles your natural parents have filled at home. You must be willing to build meaningful relationships with these people. If you do not do so, you will be isolating yourself in a place far from home. Think of yourself in a boat on the ocean. You can call your natural parents and they can give emotional support, but they cannot be in the boat helping you row. That is the job of your host family and community representative. The big pay-off comes after your exchange when you have a whole new family you can call your own.

Ask yourself, “Am I ready to break away from my family and accept a new support group in my new country?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out a different type of program.

4. Be open-minded and beware of expectations. Most every student exchange handbook delves in length about expectations and for good reason. If you narrow your ideas about your new city, school, or host family, you are setting yourself for a major fall. The fact of the matter is that student exchange is a big lottery. Some students get a big city or school, some get a small. Some students get the beach, some get the mountains, some get the open plains. Some students get a mansion, some get a modest home. What you should expect is a clean and safe home with suitable living arrangements.

Remember the fundamental purpose of your exchange. If you remember your fundamental purpose, you will realize that a wide variety of placements can help you achieve your goals.

Don’t go on exchange expecting to change host families after your arrival. Frankly, it’s an awful thing to do to a family who has committed ten months of their life, agreed to shoulder the expense of having you in their home, and may have been eagerly awaited your arrival for months.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to accept any placement given to me assuming it is a clean and safe home?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out a different type of program.

5. You need to be willing to follow the rules of your program and your host family. There are many rules in exchange organizations. There are rules about contact with home, travel to see relatives, independent travel, internet usage, and the list goes on and on. It does not matter if you or your family is accustomed to bending or breaking rules…while on exchange, not following rules will lead to conflict and possibly being sent home.

Read through your program rules and ask yourself, “Can I and my parents live with all these rules?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out a different type of program.

6. You need to be honest on your application and profile. Don’t let anyone tell you to put down that you are willing to accept any type of placement so that you will be chosen. You will be chosen. If you indicate you are willing to live in a rural area, don’t be upset when you are placed in a home far from a major city. If you indicate you are willing to live with a childless couple, don’t get upset when you are placed in a home without children. There is nothing wrong with indicating these preferences, but you should know they also limit your opportunities for host families.

If you are unwilling to be completely open-minded about your exchange, then your profile is the place to get it all out in the open. If you absolutely must have a guitar class, then put it on your profile. If you absolutely must ski, then put it in  your profile. If you are a picky eater, put it in your profile. You may or may not get your request as this is not how exchange programs work, but at least those host families who know they can’t meet your wishes can pass over your profile. Please keep in mind a couple of things. First, some activities and classes are offered at only a select number of schools and schools have limits on the number of  exchange students they will accept.
Second, at least in AYUSA, exchange students are divided up and sent to different geographic locations. If you want to snow ski and your profile is sent to the Southern States Region, you may need to learn to love skiing on water rather than snow.

Conversely, if you don’t want a family who plays chess every evening and twelve hours on Saturday, don’t list chess as one of your passions. Potential host families look at this part of the profiles very carefully.

If you list three or more activities in which you would like to participate and your host family can accommodate one or two, you should be very appreciative of your host family and grateful that things worked out well for your exchange.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to accept the risks of limiting potential host families in exchange for a more ‘perfect’ placement? Do I understand that in student exchange programs, specific types of placements are not guaranteed?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out a different type of program.

7. Food is a large part of culture. Remember the fundamental purpose of your exchange. Food reflects both geography and culture. If you are a picky eater and unwilling to try new food, then you are going to miss out on much of what a culture has to offer. This goes for everyone and not just exchange students.

Ask yourself, “Am I open to try new food.” If the answer is “no”, then you should reconsider cultural exchange or resign yourself to only a partial cultural experience.

8. An exchange student must be open and honest. While you are on exchange, you must be open and honest with your natural parents, your host parents, and your community representative or another employee of your exchange organization. Never lie to any of these people, telling them “things are OK” when they are not. Your success as an exchange student depends largely on the communication you have with these three groups of people.

Never tell lies about your host family in the community or elsewhere. It won’t get you a new host family in the same school. It will get you sent to another community away from your friends or possibly home. It can also ruin the chances for future exchange students to have a wonderful exchange.

Ask yourself, “Am I an open and honest person? If I have a problem, am I the type of person to seek solutions through open communication and honest behavior?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out a different type of program.

9. You are an exchange student. You are not a boarder. Your host family is devoting time and resources that are completely voluntary. That is their part of the exchange. You also have a part. Your host family is expecting you to hold up your end of the bargain.

What is your part? Remember the fundamental purpose of your exchange. Your host family is expecting you to take language learning seriously and to actively take part in the culture of the country, the community, and the home. They are expecting a new member of the family who assumes all the duties and responsibilities of that position. They are hoping to build a meaningful relationship that will last a lifetime and not a mere ten months. They do not want a student who acts like a boarder. If they wanted a boarder, they would find someone willing to pay for the room and food.

How do you act like a boarder? You stay on the internet all the time or in your room rather than spend time with the family. All meaningful communication is between you and your natural family and never with your host family. You spend too much time in your native language. You expect to be driven everywhere with no regard for the needs of other family members. You show disrespect to written and unwritten household rules. You are resistant to participating in family activities. You expect things rather than be grateful when things are given.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to hold up my end of student exchange?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out another type of program.

10. If you have problems, be patient and work through the system of your exchange organization. This is where the perseverance comes in. So far, everything that has been discussed has dealt with what exchange students need to do and the questions they need to ask before attempting to go on exchange. But, of course, there are many problems that occur that are outside of the control of the exchange student.

If a problem occurs, work within the system. Circumventing the system is not likely to achieve favorable results. Solve problems by first approaching your host family, then your representative, then the regional or national office if needed. If you can clearly articulate your problem, someone will listen…”I want a new host family” is not clearly articulating a problem. Be prepared to give facts and specifics. Be patient but persistent. Allow those in charge the time to gather all the details and work out a solution. Of course, if the problem is serious, you should expect your organization to move with due haste.

Going around the system and not giving your local exchange organization the chance at solving your problem is a very bad path to take and not likely to achieve success.

Ask yourself, “Am I and my parents willing to work through the system of my exchange organization to solve most problems I will encounter while on exchange?” If the answer is “no”, then you should seek out a different type of program.

I hope that you will find my advice for exchange students helpful. Good luck, future exchangers!


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71 responses to “Advice for Exchange Students

  1. I think your “Advice for Exchange Students” is so true! It should be a must read for both exchange students and host families, with the reminder during the trying times to “remember the fundamental purpose of your exchange.” This may alleviate some of the minor issues that come up. We hosted six students over the years and had both wonderful learning experiences and challenges – making us all grow in differnet ways.

    • Thank you for this, AND being honest. This helped me understand the requirements, and what to consider before deciding to be an exchange student. Reading this also help me realize things I need to work on before considering being an exchange student. Such as the being open, and willing to talk to many people. I have a hard time at speaking to many people at a time, and being distinct. If I’m going to consider being an exchange student I have to work on some of these factors.

  2. Thanks for the compliments. I really hope this helps someone down the line.

  3. Thanks for this. Although I am certain an exchange is the right thing for me, reading this made me think about it on a deeper level and made me better understand why I really want to go on an exchange.

    • Although I don’t know you, your few thoughtful words lead me to believe that you will be a wonderful exchange student. I wish for the very best to come to you on your exchange. Good luck!

  4. Thank you for point number two! I’ve already done my exchange, and sometimes it creates conflicting feelings because I’ve changed in some ways, yet I am the same in others. It’s hard for others to see this, so they put extra pressure onme to to be totally different or totally the same.

    • Fortunately, we can choose the people who we allow to influence who we are. Choose wisely, then don’t fall for the pressure from others. Good Luck!

  5. As a former exchange student to Germany, upon reading point one, I wanted to stand up and clap. Such simple words, but so true! During my year, it was shocking to see how much language acquisition corresponded to the overall quality of the exchange. Those who really committed to learning German and, uh, like speaking German because we were IN Germany (it seems so self-evident) had a ball, whereas the others…To be fair, as native English speakers, sometimes we are at a marked disadvantage: I remember having to fight to get my German friends to only speak in German with me. However, when in doubt, read point number one! Onelifelog speaks the truth! (And if all else fails, fib and say that you’re from a country whose language few in the area know. I did well in Spanish in school, so I would lie and say I was from Panama. Few Germans speak Spanish well enough to harass one with it. 🙂

  6. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom! I am going on exchange in a couple of months and although I believe I am the right person for an exchange, this advice has made me really think and understand even further why I want to do this and what may (or may not) come out of it. Point 1 is absolutely brilliant, simple but so true! Thank you again.

  7. Pingback: Blogger Offers Advice to Exchange Students « Adventures in Maryland

  8. In my experience thus far as an exchange student, I have to agree with your advice. I think your blog and particularly this post is very helpful for curious students looking for answers concerning what it takes to make the most of an exchange. I, myself, have just started a blog about my student exchange experience in Maryland, and have linked and refered to your blog post as a way to educate exchange students. Thanks for your post.

  9. Genisien Winfrey

    I agree with all that you have said except for one thing. I do think that exchange can transform some one that is more of an introvert into an extrovert. In fact I know it can; I was able to see two of my bestfriends change dramatically. My friends, who were exchange students of course, (one from Thailand and the other from Japan) were both very introverted people when they arrived, but when they left they were the complete opposite. Actually, if you were to ask any of the Inbounds in our district who they thought were the most changed they would point to my friends. This brings me too my next point……
    I also disagree with your “fundemental purpose of exchange.” I believe the purpose of exchange is change. Some of the earlier exchanges, which took place durring World Wars 1 and 2, were meant to promote peace. In order to promote peace you have to change anothers point of view, therefor the purpose of exchange is change. You change the person how? By showing them another way of life; another way of thinking. They see the world in a different light. Yes, learning another culture and language is part of exchange but it is not the purpose. The cultural and linguistic aspects are simply building blocks to change. A year abroad does change you because your view of the world is no longer one sided. You now know that there is something more out there other than the life you live in your country. You cant ignore it becuase you lived it; for one year you lived it.

    I am sorry if that seemed long winded, but I wanted to make sure that my point of view was clear to you.

    • I want to thank you for your thoughtful and well-written comments. I don’t disagree with your point of view, but I think it is leading to a misunderstanding on your part. Specifically, the audience for this post is students who have not yet made the decision to go on exchange, or perhaps students who are at the beginning or middle of their exchange.

      Point two is titled “Don’t expect your exchange to change you in a particular way.” This point is not to imply that change will not occur. Expectations are very often poison to the exchange student. The wise exchange student will enter on one end and then reflect to see what emerges on the other side. I am happy that your friends became more outgoing, but had this been their expectation when they came and it not occurred (it certainly was not guaranteed), then a part of their exchange would have been unnecessarily unsuccessful.

      Concerning your second disagreement, I don’t find fault with anything you wrote. In fact, I would like to point out your statement “The cultural and linguistic aspects are simply building blocks to change.” Yes, they are the building blocks, in fact the foundation to a successful exchange, an exchange that accomplishes everything else of which you expressed. That is why it is the fundamental purpose of exchange.

  10. 10 very basic questions, but so very true! I’ve been wanting to become an exchange student for a really long time and I just recently got accepted by my chosen organization. I’ve been searching the net for blogs written by other exchange students and or someone who have experience with them, and then I found yours. I’m proud to say that I could answer “yes ” to every single point- but it also made me realize why I want to do this.
    Thanks for writing this!

  11. This blog was indeed very helpful to me. I was debating to become an exchange student before I came across this blog, but now that I have read it I know I am ready to take such a bold oppurtunity. I like that the tone is very blunt but not condescending which is crucial to students that have only read articles that paint the “exchanged life” with bright colors as if the whole program abroad was just a big party. It also helped me understand on a deeper level that these host families go out of their way voluntarily just by accepting a new culture in their life. I consider myself a very grateful person and always have been blessed by being so, but this blog has made me realize I must be evermore grateful with a host family who hopefully will treat me as one of them. Thank you very much (:

    • I’m glad you have put in so much thought before deciding on exchange. I am also confident your thoughtfulness will lead to a successful exchange. Good Luck!

  12. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been looking at foreign exchange programs for months, contemplating whether I’m mature enough and ready to go. Unfortunately, I’m extremely shy and tend to retreat to my room often, which is something your post warned against. Although I’ve passionately wanted to learn German and visit Germany for three years, this post makes me stop and think.
    Even if I do decide to go, I have to work for a year to pay for the trip (I’m a sophomore and it will be my first job). It will be a good opportunity to decide and it will also give me time to work on my introverted personality and attempt to be more outgoing and friendly.
    Thank you Onelifelong!

    • Sounds like you are in a good place. The best at anything know their potential weak points. Good luck with your year and job and please report back when you go on exchange.

  13. Thank you so much for this advice, I’m currently 2 weeks into a year long exchange in Spain and having a down day. All of you advice is true, easy to apply, and makes sense. Its nice to hear from a host parents perspective. I will try my darndest to follow your suggestions and I’m sure my year will be great. God bless you and your family for giving so many students this marvellous experience!

    • Down days are just another part of the experience, especially at the beginning. Best of luck…your year is going to be awesome.

  14. Exchange Student!

    Hey! This advice is very good, and very true. Currently, I am on an exchange in Taiwan! I’ve been here for about a month, and everything is coming along very well. But I do need some advice. You see, I do go on my computer often up in my room. But usually it’s very boring whenever I just sit downstairs. My host parents aren’t always home, and neither is my older host brother. My younger host brother is, but he is always on the computer. I’m starting to fear that it’s making me learn the language more slowly. I go to a language class with other exchange students and I can tell they know more language than I do.. because they will say things in Chinese and I have no idea what they said! I’m just not sure what to do about all that. To make matters worse, almost everyone speaks English to me… if you could maybe email me (xxxxxxx@yahoo.com) that’d be great! Thanks so much!

  15. Thanks so much. I am going to keep this info! We have had three exchange students. Two were what I would call a success, one not so much.( she went home after 8 weeks) I am in agreement about your point especially about connecting with the host family and disconnecting with the host country and natural parents. Our third student failed because she called home so much and would not come out of her room. She was on the computer all the time with her family and friends. PLEASE students, your time here is so short! Your parents and friends will be there when you get home. The other thing is you said is so important too. She was not honest in her interviews and in her profile. Its better to be honest and not picked. You will put yourself and a family threw so much pain. Follow these rules listed here. They really will help to see if you have what it takes.

  16. Im very interested in becoming a exchange student. My only worry is if its too late to start the process! Im 16 a junior in high school and i live in California in the U.S.A. I have the full support of my parents, i have a passion for new languages and new cultures. I just love being around new people and new experiences. Im involved in school and part of a program im involved in allows me to travel the state of california where i can meet new people and im a great leader and i am very understanding. I need help basically “getting started.” Thank you so much for this blog, it has deeply made me think about this exchange.

    • Well, it’s time to get started! You need to do two things right away… start thinking about countries for exchange and go to csiet.org and find their listing of programs. Then start going to the different websites and check out their application deadlines. I encourage you to go to cultures-shocked.org…there you will find lots of information on the different programs available to you. There are many different programs. You want to find one that meets your needs and services the country you want to go to. All this should get you started and keep you very busy. Best of luck and come back and let me know how things are going!

  17. One more thing. 🙂 Is there a number i should be calling? Ive read many articles on exchanges and im still not clear on what or who i should be calling. I dont want to be late on applications! Please get back to me and let me know. Thank you! -Valerie

    • You should be contacting the individual programs such as Rotary, AFS, AYUSA, etc. These and other programs are on the CSIET listing. As far as I know, all of the programs have good web sites where you can download applications, check application deadlines, see what countries are available (they are different for different programs), get an idea of costs, etc. Each program has its own application, deadlines, etc. I’m sure that each web site will have a phone number if you have any questions for that particular organization.

  18. Exchange Student

    Thank you so much for this well thought out post. I am about 8 and a half weeks through an 11 week exchange to France and I can honestly say that reading this article helped me through my hard times. This whole experience has been eye opening for me as I am only 15 years old. It really brought into perspecive what real life is and that it is not going to be easy. I went through about two weeks of depression here and normally I am almost always in a good mood. This article really helped to shine the light on why I was doing the exchange. It has been hard being away from my family and friends and I admire anyone who can spend more than 3 months away from home. I am truly impressed it takes a lot of guts. Thanks so much for posting this article I have shown it to many of my friends who are on the same exchange as me and I know it helped them a lot.

    • Best of luck for your remaining two weeks of exchange. I know they will be packed full of wonderful experiences!

  19. Thank you so much for these guidelines! I have been thinking about an exchange for sometime now, and have had both misgivings and extreme excitement at the thought of it. Your advice really made me settle down and think about this seriously. I have been watching and reading blogs of exchange students who have been to Germany (The country I wish to go to) and I think your first point definitely cleared things up when people said if they were having a good/bad experience. The ones who went with really high expectations (And didn’t care about the language or country they went to) ended up having difficulties. The ones who were passionate about experiencing and learning, however, did great!

    Thanks for making me consider these points. I now am whole-heatedly set on achieving my dream, and believe I can handle it. I love German (the language) and the culture, and I think learning about both of these through exchange will really help me grasp a better understanding.

    My only question is (And I’m not sure if you’re the one to answer this, but I believe you could): I have a semi-hard time with timidness and forming relationships. I can be open and friendly, but it’s also hard for me to take the first step in a relationship and navigate how to create one. I am willing and driven to change that about myself, and would try my best, but can’t you sometimes just not have ‘that thing’ that allows you to form relationships? Do you think it would be a problem, and if so, do you have any suggestions on how to make it easier?

    Thanks again for your tips! They were extremely helpful.

    • Relationships are important because there will be times when you will the support of people in your host country. I think these are some keys to success.

      1. Find out what is important to a person and take an interest in it. Even if you think it is uninteresting, find a way to talk about it or at least nod your head in a convincing way while the other person talks about it. You never know…you may learn to like something you never thought about before.This can be hard, but building most relationships takes work.

      2. Seek out common interests with the other person. You may be complete opposites in every other regard, but if there is one thing that can anchor a relationship that may be all that it takes. Usually, however, it’s not one big thing but multiple little things. And they may be things neither of you consider to be important otherwise, but because they are shared, they become important to the relationship.

      3. Be conscious of when the other person needs their space or you should just keep your mouth quiet.

      Hopefully the other person will be thinking about the same things. This is what makes a relationship work. Some days you may have to give a little to the other person, some days they may have to give something back.

  20. thank you very much for this advice. i start my exchange in France in 4 days. The only one i didn’t immediately say yes to was point 7 about the food. Most people who know me would say I’m a picky eater but think I’m slowly getting better. I know it’s a big part of culture and I will do my best to try everything.

    • I think you will do great. I do want to encourage you on the food, however, because it is such a rich part of French culture. And it’s not just French food…hopefully you will also get to sample some culinary cross-currents, such as food from north Africa.

  21. Thank you for these, they have been very helpful so far! I am an exchange student myself, and i wanted to ask you for some advice.
    I have been here for almost a month now, and so far it has been pretty disappointing. The first week i got here was very nice, they showed me around, went shopping and all that stuff. But ever since i have gotten here, the sister hasnt talked to me. all she has said so far is yes or no, it is like she doesnt care if im here or not. And the host brother does talk to me, and when his friends come over i sit with them and talk to them, but when he goes and do something he never asks if i want to come, he just leaves. Even if i ask if i can come the day before, the next day he is just suddenly gone. And even in school he ignores me now, if i go sit with him at lunch he just doesnt talk to me, like he would rather not have me there.
    So i mostly do nothing now at home, maybe sit in the living room watch tv while they are both in their rooms or gone, and after that i also just go to my room and do nothing but being on the computer.
    And besides that, school has been pretty dissapointing aswell. I heard all those stories about the first day of school for exchange students in america, but when i went to my first day it was nothing like that. I heard that everyone would come talk to you and ask you a lot about your home country, and immediatly ask you to come hang out with them, sit with them at lunch or go to the movies after school. The first day, most people didnt even know that i wasnt from america, and when i started talking to them they would be like, oh thats nice, but not the reaction i would expect, like the very friendly response and very inviting response straight away. Sure, after two weeks i have made a friend at school, but thats it. At first i thought that it was normal, it would get better after a week, but no. and then i ask other exchange students how it is going over there, and they give me the response that school has been great, that it went like i thought it would go (inviting and so on, like i said above). They get invited for sleep overs, or go to the movies or something after their first day of school. And that their host family does a lot with them. So far i have only been driven through the city and went shopping with them, and two family dinners.

    I am sorry for giving such a depressing response, but its just a big dissapointment so far for something i was so excited about and worked for for 3 years. And yes, i have talked to my hostparents already and told them about my sister ignoring me, and they said they talked about it to here and said that she should talk to me, which she havent done. And about school, they said are sure it will get better over time.

    I havent talked to my area rep yet, as i would like some advice yet (maybe this is normal at the beginning?) before i start being a whiner and disrespectful to my host family, and i thought maybe i should wait two weeks when there is a day where all the exchange students in the state meet, and where my area rep also is. But that just seems so far away now! And maybe it is because i live in the city with my host family, while most exchange students live in the sub-urbs and go to school there.

    Hope to hear a response!

    • Just reading through my response, and i would like to add something. I havent talked about my host mom yet, but she is very nice. i can talk to her, and whenever she goes to get groceries or go to the gym she asks me if i want to come. It is just that that is the only things i do here in the weekends, besides going out to dinner at night.

      And i have also done some research now, by asking other exchange students i know how their first weeks were and where they live. And so far everyone i have talked to lives in a small town or suburb (less then 30.000 residents). And they all have the best time of their live, in school and with their families. I live in minneapolis at the moment, and maybe that is why the people at school are less open (not sure what is the right word for it, but what i described in my last response) because they are more used to tourists etc.

      I am thinking more and more strongly of changing family and out moving of the city everyday (especially since both my host brother and sister just dont say hi when they come home, or say goodmorning when i walk into the room), but I just wanted to hear how you think about it, since after reading your blogs you seem to know everything about exchange students ! 🙂

      • First of all, I do want to express to you that I am sorry your experience has been less than you expected.

        Unfortunately, there is nothing in your post that would indicate a host family change is necessary. This is also a year that many students did not find a host family at all. As difficult as it may be to read, you are one of the lucky ones as you are here and have a permanent host family. Your chances of finding another host family, though not impossible, are not great.

        I think you need to take charge of your exchange. Perhaps your host family is not what you were expecting, but they are opening their home and making sacrifices so that you could travel. Accept them for what they are and move on. Living in a large city, you will not be as unique as you would be in a small town, but you will have all of the opportunities of living in a metropolitan level. My primary suggestion is that you need to get involved in some school activities/classes that will allow you to meet and mix with other students…yearbook staff, drama, service organizations, etc. If you are already involved in something but are being unsuccesful in making friends – change activities. Somewhere there is a group of students that will be happy to include you.

        Finally, listen to these stories from other exchange students with a wary ear. Every exchange student goes through difficult periods. You just happen to be going through your difficult period at the beginning of your exchange.

  22. carl and hassel hamilton

    Hello. I am a host parent. We (my partner and I) have had four exchange students. We have two more this year. We have been very fortunate with three in the past. We have only had one negative situation. We had this boy who came into our home with another young man. Everything was great at the beginning. then all of a sudden the student came to me, tellingme he was not happy and the area was too small for him. He has already been in contact with his workers behind our backs. Then we found out that he had told many lies to other students at the school. and to the workers. I think this hurt just like having a knife pierced through the heart. So the organization moved him to another family. I think that this boy had bigger expectations, that what there actually were. I must say tho that the other four students have been great. We have had times that we had to sit down and talk through things, but it always has worked out. It has been so rewarding and it feels so wonderful to be able to keep in touch with your host children, especially when they say i love you dad. or they tell you thanks even to this day for everything that you have done for them. I have never regretted hosting only with the one exception. Every student is different but if you only take the time to listen to one another everything can work out for the best. I would recommend hosting to anyone. I must say be prepared to have obstacles but most of all be prepared to have the best experience of a lifetime. We love our exchange students//

  23. THANKS For GOOD ADVICES ! i was an exchange student in 2011-2012 in Missouri, Springfield, i have just 3 weeks left and i am so excited that i am flying back to home, i am also sad that i will miss USA, my new friends and my host family, i had great experiences during a year,i wonna give some advice too:
    1. never be nervious that you don’t like being here or if you are having some problems with ur english, after some while time evrything will be fine, every exchange student will have their difficult times in different period of time. Remember that, by being positive, thinking that it is normal for exchange students, that you can pass all of that , you can tottaly pass all of those and to have a great year, everything will be great but will take little bit time!
    Have a great exchange year!
    B.z.,
    Exchange student from Kyrgyzstan.

  24. Hello. I’m going on a year long exchange in 9 weeks and am really looking forward to it. Of course I’ve started to get a bit nervous, as all exchange students do, but this helped me reassure myself that I’m definitely doing the right thing, and for that I thank you!

    • Antscial Don’t. Worry… be nervous is part of all the experience…. Im a exchange student right now, and OMG!,!! The nervous! (but I think my father was worse than me) I tried to be strong my, last weeks in my country, but exactly in the plane 30minutes before arrive in my new home for one year, I began to cry…

      Hey… the first days may will be awful for you, I cried for he language (my english is a dissaster), I cried for the subjects in the school, I cried for my famly and friends, y cried for everithing…

      But… then…. you will feel the change… my advice is… smile… is amazing how many things you can do smiling… how many feelings you can express, how many people you feel better, just with a smile.

      I have to admit that I have problems… because I am really a antisocial person… I dont have any idea how talk with my host family, specially with my host brother, and sisters… (they are around my age) but…they are amazing…I love them… Don’t. Commit my mistake. Don’t be shy, be strong, cherrfull, and show them (your new family) who you are, you will love them as you family and they will love you too…

      Good luck… remeber SMILE…

  25. Thank you .. you helped me trying to better understand all this but I am not really sure what to write in my profile and what I want from a host family because I don t want to look like a bitchy person …. how to put all my needs so it looks normal ???

  26. Just be honest and don’t lie about anything. We have had student and when they got here there profiles were nothing like what they were. Just be YOURSELF! That is what I would look for.

  27. Duuudee u really helped me, I was looking for some tips and u helped me realise that I’ll be ok, my exchange is gonna be awesome, i fit in everything u said… just gotta make sure my mum does 2 cause she was a little bit insecure about not talking to me for a year… well, a huge thanks for a brazilian who hopes to have a great time and give people a great time in the US within a few months ^^

  28. I’m an australian exchange student in Spain for ten months, I’m currently in my second month, so far so good. My dad actually sent me the link to this site after I told him I’ve been having issues agreeing on a curfew with my host mum. I’m a very independent 16 year old, I like to take care of myself. I think this sometimes makes it hard when I’m restricted (e.g very early curfew). However I’ve gone with honesty and hope that we come to an agreement. I’ve discovered that being very restricted leads to rebellion, and that’s the last thing I want as I’m sure my host parents to. It’s difficult and extremely boring at times as I am and only child in the family and my host mum is always cleaning and host dad always out. So I read alot and go for walks alot on my own. Spanish culture is very different to what I’m used to, from my daily timetable to the food we eat. The language barrier is difficult, frustrating, but just practice and listen closely and youll get the hang of it in no time, its working for me. I know I’ll have the time of my life, it’s already going quick so I’m trying to make the best of it. “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it” – my fathers words and my motto for the tough times

    Any hints on how to extend a curfew? My host mum wants to let me stay out longer but is scared something bad will happen and she will get into troule,

    • Here are couple of things to think about.

      First of all, a curfew is a good way to build trust. When you can follow a curfew without an argument your host family will feel more comfortable with you and, over the long term, feel more comfortable with you being out later at night.

      Second, host families like specifics. If you can name the exact place and time you will be someplace they will likely be more permissive. “I’m going to hang out” will probably not be met with much enthusiasm.

      Good luck.

  29. Hi. I’m a YES candidate from Indonesia for the 2013-2014 academic years. I just received the news that AYUSA is my consortium and for the past days I browsed about AYUSA, and then I came to your blog. This is a great post! I will share this to other candidates if you don’t mind 🙂 Your blog is so helpful and make me wish that I will get a host family as wonderful as your family 🙂

    Cheers

  30. We are about to accept an exchange student from Spain into our home in July. I was a foreign language major in college before completing law school. Your advice eased a bit of my worries about having to entertain or be a tour guide constantly through the 10 month period. Certainly one of the reasons we decided to open our home to an exchange student was the hope that it would give us an opportunity to again experience all the wonderful things about our community and our country through fresh eyes, but I also have a full time job as does my husband. I just cannot be a 24/7 tour guide for 10 months. We also wanted to expose our daughters, 19 and 14 to another culture and language and I wanted to be able to use my rusty Spanish language skills again. I am now wondering if it is o.k. to speak Spanish while she is here or would that be a disservice to her. She will, of course, be speaking English all day at school and with the new friends we anticipate she will make here. Not many people in my small community speak Spanish. Also, neither of my daughters speak Spanish very well. Is it appropriate for her to speak Spanish with us? We very much want to learn as well. We do want to welcome this young lady as a member of our family and hope it will become a lifelong relationship that involves trips to Spain in the future to visit her. We have been to Europe several times on our own but would love to have “family” there. This is another reason we hope to better our language skills through this exchange process. Would love to have your advice regarding being the best host family we can be. Thanks so much for your time.

    • Technically, you will be doing a disservice to your student if you speak Spanish with her. I would like to point you toward my post “Advice for the Host Family.” This would run counter the primary purpose of her exchange and is not a legitimate reason for hosting a foreign exchange student. It can impede not only her language acquisition but her integration into her new life and family. It will be sending a message to her that it is OK to speak in her native language while on exchange when it is not. If she is serious about her immersion she may not want to speak Spanish with you and you need to be prepared to be OK with that. Her parents may be unhappy that they spent $10,000+ for an immersion experience that does not happen because the host family wants to practice their Spanish skills. If she has trouble adjusting you do not want to be part of the problem.

      Having said that, it can depend. She may come already speaking English like a champ or she may be a language wizard and going between two languages is not an issue. I would give her 5 months of English only. If at that time she is adjusting well and her English is progressing you can ask her if she would mind spending a set amount of time conversing with you in Spanish. English should always be the large majority of language spoken as this is the primary purpose of her exchange and is what her parents are paying for.

  31. Thank you very much for this. Last summer I went on a month long exchange to Europe and then brought my host sister back with me to America for a month. It was incredible, we had nothing but good experiences with each other, and I came to love new cultures and travel. So when the opportunity arose to exchange for a year, I was very eager. Reading through your criteria, I know that I can answer a definite ‘yes’ for all but one. I’m being totally serious when I say that I’m uncommonly mature and level-headed for my age. My parents know it too, and give me a lot of freedom because they know I can handle it. Of course I would miss them on an exchange, but I’m confident I could handle it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure they could handle it. Since the applications from Rotary (This program was amazing for the summer, but in your opinion is it a good year-long program?) my parents and I have had several long talks about me leaving for a year. In the beginning the answer was a definite, ‘No Way.’ And not for any reason concerning my own ability, but for the fact that a year is too long to be away from your family. Since then I have managed to convince them to let me start the application process with the assurance that they have the final say. But I’m concerned. I want to have this experience before I graduate, and I feel like my parents are holding me back from something potentially amazing. Which is very strange since they’ve never done anything but encourage me in anything I do until now. They’re afraid I’ll leave as the daughter they love and return some bitter stranger who doesn’t need them anymore. I want to respect their opinions and have tried very hard to look at their side of the argument fairly. And though they do have some very valid points, in the end I think they just can’t stand the thought of me being away. I’m frustrated and not sure how to respond appropriately. To gain further insight, I’ve talked to both my soccer coaches, the school librarian, my anatomy teacher, and two of my best friends. Should I continue with the application process knowing full well that my parents could shoot it down at any moment? Should I keep arguing what I want even though all it does is stress my parents and I out? I don’t know what to do, and I’d really appreciate any advice you could give from a professional standpoint. Thanks

    • “Since then I have managed to convince them to let me start the application process with the assurance that they have the final say.”

      I think you set up your current conflict with this approach. It is not going to be resolved until you get the “final say” from your parents. At some point you need to be prepared to make your very best case for why you should be allowed to go on exchange. Write an essay, do a powerpoint, find testimonials from former exchange students, etc…put together your case as best you can. Then present it to your parents and ask for a final decision. I would ask them to think it over for a week before they give a final yes or no. You need to be prepared to live with either answer. Good Luck!

  32. these all instructions will help me a lot … I really thank you for it..

  33. Well guess you did have some unpleasant affairs with this student. But besides “the fundamental purpose of exchange” which I can’t agree with, they are really not “exchange-specific”. They are just fundamental positive personality traits that each and every good person should possess. For example, realistic recognition of the world, independence, adaptability, open-mindedness, patience, honesty/frankness, respect for others, tendency to initiate rational/constructive communications… They are general. Exchange is no exception to that. It’s just that simple.

  34. This is a really well-written article, and I agree with almost everything you say. The only thing I would take issue with is the statement, “The purpose of exchange is not to provide you an escape from your natural parents or current life,” – I think it’s correct that participating in an exchange student program should not be for that express purpose, but if a student has a difficult home life, the reality is that distance from the home life can definitely be achieved by going abroad. If you really immerse yourself in your host country and everything it has to offer, you will gain more perspective on your home life and your home country, including your own biological family.

  35. Thank you very much for this post. I’m considering going abroad for a year after I graduate from high school and this looks like excellent advice. I am glad to see that I meet most of the criteria here except for two. (I’m not very independent or social.) Those are two things I will need to work on over the next two years.

    • I want to wish you the best of luck on your adventure. If you are not independent or social, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change…just that you need to enter your exchange with a plan.

  36. My main reason for going on exchange is because I have a deep passion for German and I want to learn to love the country as much I do the language. I want to experience it in a way that wouldn’t be possible without going on exchange. These questions really helped me think about foreign exchange on a deeper level.

  37. Reblogged this on Jack Goes German and commented:
    This is some great advice, and a great refresher on much of the material we learned at our Pre-Departure Orientation in Michigan.

  38. Reblogged this on letsgotogermany and commented:
    1, 2, and 3 are mostly fluff and can be skipped over. 4 is VERY important, especially the part about changing host families. I actually asked how common it was to change host families at my interview, and the lead interviewer drew a line in the sand and emphatically said that the only way that will happen is if you “trick the scholarship committee, trick CBYX, trick ASSE, trick your teachers into thinking you are flexible and if you somehow get through to Germany with a closed mind and an unadaptable personality” (her words, not mine). Again, host families are generally not paid and have put ENORMOUS resources (with regards to time, money, and lifestyle) towards hosting you for a month, so even though this might be your exchange, treat your host family with the utmost respect and be a part of it. 5-10 are also worth reading. The distinction between being a boarder and a part of the family is also critical — colleges have study abroad programs galore where host families are paid or where students stay in dorms, which means they have more freedom and can live their own lifestyle etc. but also that they are not fully integrated into a family. Go for that, don’t go for things like CBYX/NSLI-Y/YES if you need your everyday comforts while abroad.

  39. Thank you for the wonderful tips! I am extremely excited to be going on exchange with Rotary and your post has helped me clarify why. I have no idea where I should go yet, but wherever I go, I will find a way to have a good time. I will print this and reread it during my harder times next year.

  40. This is very well said! Thank you so much for writing this and sharing. I am actually a community rep for an organization and will paraphrase this with my incoming students (not that they can change their mind by that time, but these are great points and reminders).

  41. Love this! Seems like you got a pretty good clue concerning what you are talking about. Great advices, you make me really look forward to my exchange year (only a few days!!!), and I will definitely try to follow these wonderful tips.
    I can’t wait to learn a new language and experience a new culture..
    Thank you for this amazing post!!
    I am sorry for my English.

  42. This is such fantastic advice! I will be going on a three-month exchange to France in January, and I’d be lying if I were to say I weren’t a little nervous. This post, however, was extremely helpful in reminding me of the things I will need to work on and remember during my exchange in order to make the most of my time abroad. Thank you so much for this! 🙂

  43. This is great advice! Right until the point that your 16 old daughter is on exchange, is left alone in a major city 7 hours away from her host family and returns to find that the host family has given her room away to a guest for two weeks and she is expected to sleep in bed with her 14 year old host family.

    At some point it isn’t the kid, it’s the host family. I suppose a well poised teenager may be better equipped to deal with these problems but the question is, should they have to? Host family selection is as important as exchange student readiness.

    Sounds like in your case you are an excellent host family!

  44. Pingback: How to not Trip Up while on Student Exchange (Part 1) -

  45. As a former exchange student: YES!! What you’re saying is so true!! Some people don’t realize that before going on exchange, and just expect a big adventure and do not really conider the rules or the fact that host families are real people with needs and expectations, not just a hotel…. I think some of them are just not mature enough to fully benefit from an exchange of this type. I witnessed it myself during my stay in the United States, and I think it is just too bad! I’m also glad to be able to answear “yes” to every question, it makes me think that I didn’t do too bad 🙂

  46. Thank you for this, really. I have been searching for tips like yours all day: they’re really heplful and simple.
    You helped me a lot and now I know what can I improve before going on exchange, but I also know that I’m ready to go and that I’ve made te right choice.
    Thank you again!

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