As a former exchange student, high school exchange year class of ‘19, I know all about the excitement, stress and preparations you overcome when you’re preparing to go on exchange. In the years of college, you get the perfect opportunity to go away abroad (as far as covid-19 will let us). It gives us a chance to learn more about ourselves and discover new cultures. Even though it might be an overwhelming and intimidating decision to make, especially for the ones that find most comfort at home, I can guarantee you it will be one of the best decisions you made and a memory you will never forget.
There are many reasons to go on exchange, from learning a new language to building lifelong friendships and furthering your education. It will help your personal development by pushing you out of your comfort zone. The biggest challenge for exchange students is how to adjust to your new surroundings. To help you prepare for that let me introduce you to the ‘adjustment timeline’ and my own experience dealing with that.
1. Honeymoon phase
The honeymoon phase is when you first arrive in a foreign country. Everything is new and fresh. It is the first time you see the campus and your new surroundings. Before I went on exchange, I googled everything that I could think of to prepare myself to my best abilities. As I was doing a high school exchange year instead of going to a new campus, I went to a host family. As soon as I arrived at the airport, where all the host families were waiting to welcome their exchange student, I had a moment that was a mixture of stress and excitement. Why stress you wonder? I didn’t recognize my host family because the only time I had seen them was in pictures. Luckily my host sister spotted me and came running as fast as she could to hug me. I got to meet my Korean host sister and the rest of my host family for the first time and after 3 days of being there, the school started.
2. Culture shock
The culture shock is when you start to realize the differences. After your honeymoon phase, you will start to get more used to your surroundings. A common mistake that has been made by exchange students is to start comparing your home country with the country you’re in. As with a lot of things in life, everything has its pros and cons. In this situation, it is most important to stay positive and have an open mind. To me, the culture shock was one of the funniest experiences, because the small things will shock you the most. I suddenly started catching myself saying “y’all” and had breakfast at school instead of home. Every morning after saying the pledge of alliance they announce whose birthday it was that day.
3. Adjustment and fitting in
Adjustment and fitting in is the phase where you’re adjusting to your new surroundings. This is where you become more used to your daily schedule and you will start noticing you're now used to the new things that surprised you in the first place.
During the holidays or other times during your exchange, there is a chance that some people may get homesick. As exciting as the holidays are, especially in a foreign country where they sometimes have different rituals, it is normal to feel homesick. In this situation, it is important to not isolate yourself and try to get your mind off of things. Whenever I felt homesick, I would text a friend or went to do something fun with my host family. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Homesickness is a very real anxiety issue, but it's not one that must hold you back.
5. Spring excitement
This is the part near the end of your exchange. By this time, you’ve probably gotten to do some of the stuff from your bucket list and still have some events planned. For me the last part of my exchange was the busiest. I still had to go to 3 graduation ceremonies, still was going on a senior trip to Indiana and had a road trip planned with my host family. Spring excitement is the part where you hopefully have fully reached the goal that you came for or that you’re almost there.
6. Going home
This is the saddest part but also the best part in a weird way. Saying goodbye is hard, very hard. Yet it does make you realize how important and lucky you were to have made new friends, connections and hopefully you will feel like you have a second home. If you ever decide to go on exchange, work placement or want/are an Exchange here at Breda university I can assure you that the journey of going on exchange is worth it. Just as Andre Gide, a French writer, once said: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”