Every year thousands of schoolchildren and students live and study for up to a year in a foreign country. In this article, we look at what these programs are, who qualifies, and whether you will be able to become a foreign exchange student.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many foreign students at your school, college, or university? Have you considered the possibility of you studying abroad as part of your studies?
Many full-time overseas students are studying for a full degree at your college and stay for the 3 or 4 years it takes to complete the course.
There are, however, thousands of foreign students studying on a short term basis, usually for the second or third year of their course. These are exchange students and as these exchange programs are generally reciprocal you may be able, as part of your study program, to study at an overseas university for a year.
Each year there are also thousands of school children who also attend school in another country for periods up to a year. Again it is not because their families have moved during the summer but it’s because they are foreign exchange students and their experience abroad is as much a part of their education as their regular classroom studies.
Foreign exchange students can be found in many countries all over the world. They generally have an avid interest in the culture of the area they have traveled to and usually have to have at least a basic grasp of the language.
By living abroad they gain an insider’s knowledge that they could never acquire from a textbook back in their homeland thousands of miles away. In addition, they learn the language, often becoming fluent during their time abroad
Foreign exchange students embark on an adventure that includes living in the home of virtual strangers for months at a time. The program involves recruiting host families who provide a place to stay as well as the essentials for the foreign exchange students.
Host families are carefully screened and chosen based on certain criteria. When a host family applies to the program they are asked if they have a preference regarding the gender of the foreign exchange students or the age. The majority of foreign exchange students are in the mid to late teens.
Once the host family is chosen they are given more information on the student that will be living with them. This helps them prepare for their arrival.
The foreign exchange students in the program have usually studied the language and the culture of the country they are visiting and therefore have the ability to communicate, at least at a basic level, with their host family. Sometimes host families are surprised by the level of comprehension that the foreign exchange students have.
Foreign exchange students also have to go through a series of steps to enroll and participate in the program. Being away from their homes and familiar surroundings can be difficult and therefore they are normally expected to undergo several psychological tests including speaking with a professional. It is important for the foreign exchange students, their parents, and the host family that the children are able to handle and embrace the experience.
Many foreign exchange students become an honorary member of the family they visit. When their visit has ended and it’s time for them to return home it can be a bittersweet experience. It can also be difficult for the host family as they have to say goodbye to the young person who lived with them for months.
Frequently the host family and students become lifelong friends and visit each other regularly.
If your school or college participate in a student exchange program (and most do) and you are studying a course where you will benefit from the overseas experience (e.g. a foreign language) then inquire and see whether you could be spending the next academic year abroad. Whether you are one of the foreign exchange students or part of the host family the experience can be one of the most enriching and rewarding things you will ever do.