There are a lot of reasons why you should do an exchange. One – Because it´s the best experience of your life. Two – you get to know a country/culture that is completely different from your own. Three – you will make the most amazing new friends, etc etc.
The subject of this post is not whether you should do an exchange year or not, because you should. Everyone should.
The real question is, when should you do an exchange?
I did my exchange when I was 16 years old, and I have heard a lot of arguments against it. Too young, too naive,too dangerous. You will *cough* ´lose´ *cough* a year. Yet, to be honest, now that I look back at it I couldn`t think of a better time to do an exchange year, and here is why:
1. You are not losing a year
You NEVER ´lose´ a year. This is a biggest misconception there is about doing an exchange year. Sure, the year I did in Panamá did not count for my school back home, resulting in the fact that I graduated a year later than all my friends. But I haven´t regretted it for one second. As cheesy as this is going to sound, the experience you get for living in another country is not comparable to anything else. You learn a new language. You learn to be independent. You learn to adapt. You learn to survive.
The year I came back my friends were all off to college and told me what it was like to live away from their parents, how independent they were now, but I knew it was nothing in comparison to what I had learned being abroad.
Besides, highschool is honestly all about working on yourself and developing some general knowledge, and is there a better way to learn about the world than to actually explore it?
2. You are still young
You are a remarkable age when you are around 16, because while you have your own personality and you are quite aware of the things you are doing, your brain is not fully `set´ yet. Teenagers rebel, do extreme things in order to create their own identity, and what better way to discover your identity that to go to a place where people do things in a completely different way?
The things you`ll learn at this age will probably decide the way you are for the rest of your life, and a foreign exchange where you learn to accept people from a different culture, and most of all: adapt to a different environment. This is definitely one of the main reasons why you should do an exchange year while you are still in high school!
3. It will be easier to learn a new language
The younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. So why wait untill college?
For those of you who haven´t been on an exchange yet: if are not from an English-speaking country and already speak english, I really recommend you go somewhere else than the US, UK, Canada or Australia. While of course these are
really nice countries, I have heard a lot of people who came back from their exchange in an English-speaking country and saw all their fellow exchange students speak Japanese, Spanish or German, they could still only speak English as a second language. Naturally, they still had the best year of their life, but I have heard many of them say that if they could choose again, they would go to a country where they could learn a new language.
4. You get to live with a host family
And this is an opportunity you will probably never get again! To get to know a culture by actually living it, like you do with a host family, is a truly unique experience that can not be compared to anything else. Sure, it`s not always easy, but it is without a doubt worth it! I see so many university exchange students that merely use their host country as a playground for their lives, yet they don´t actually try to get to know the local people or speak the local language. Living with a host family you are forced to do all these things. You will encounter things that no other expat might ever encounter, for however long they live there.
5. It shows well on your curriculum
Of course it does! First of all, you might speak another language, which is of course always a plus. Secondly, it shows you are independent and not afraid to get outside of your comfort zone.
Need to write an essay about your life and struggles for your college application? Write it about your exchange and the things you have had to overcome to adapt to your new family/country! When colleges have to select students they want someone who stands out, who has an interesting story and who is brave enough to something extraordinary. I know people who got accepted to their university immediately just because they had done an exchange year.
6. You might not get the chance again
¨Maybe when I`m in college I´ll do an exchange¨ Yeah, maybe, but I know how that works. You already have so much other stuff to do, suddenly things are getting sort of serious with your boyfriend/girlfriend, you have a job now. And once you finish college, you will not have the age or the ways to do an exchange in some kind of institution that does not involve work.
No excuses, just do it! Whenever you get the chance, grab it with both hands, then hold on to it tightly and do not let it go!
And as a bonus
7. Doing exchange year is the best decision you will make in your life. Period.
Is there any way I can make this sound less cliché? Unfortunately not. But it´s the truth.
You will make the best friends you have ever had. You will learn to appreciate everything, from family to the way things are organized in your home supermarket. You get to know yourself in a level you couldn`t possibly have imagined before. Being an exchange student you are automatically one of the most awesome people in the world. You will get amazing people skills. You will learn the most random, stupid things yet in some moment of your life you will use it again and you realize it somehow all had a purpose.
Need I say more?