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Exchange Example Stories

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories

The Exchange Roller Coaster

Being an exchange student is just like riding a roller coaster. Let me explain why.

First of all, you find out about exchange programs in different ways. In my case, I saw a documentary on TV about a French Rotary Exchange Student going to the USA for a year. It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade, and I was not 13 yet. I immediately knew this kind of program was made for me ! But, you know, I was too young… Just like when you go to the amusement park, you really want to try this new ride, but you have to be 5 feet tall, and you’re only 4’8”… So you’re parents tell you that in a couple years you will maybe be able to ride it, but the silently hope for you to forget about this crazy idea.

As soon as I knew such exchange programs existed, I started making research about it, reading blogs, talking on forums etc. And then, And in the beginning of 9th grade, I was officially able to apply, I would have been 15 during my exchange. I was finally 5 feet tall ! But from your parents point of view, you are still too little to ride this roller coaster, too young to go away…

So I just waited another year. And at the end of freshmen year, I applied to what was about to change my life. My parents let me get into the line for this amazing ride !


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A very long line, though… That is where it all starts. You fill in paperwork, just like when you show your amusement park pass. You wait in line, you like when you wait for a host country.

You get excited when people in front of you move, just like when you receive that “Host Family” email. You see the ride running, and the riders being so happy from far away, just like you read exchange students adventures on their blogs. But most of it, you wait, and burn of impatience.

And then, comes the moment you hop on the roller coaster. The moment you are actually going, actually leaving your family, your friends, your home, your bed etc. You have that bittersweet feeling, between excitement and nervousness… But you can’t back out (and you don’t want to anyways, you’ve been waiting for this moment for 3 whole years !).

And here it goes. The plane takes off, the wagon starts moving. It goes up, up, up, just like your emotions. You’re feeling so happy, everything is perfect in your host country ! And at some point, the ride goes down… You’re scared, homesick, angry etc. But pretty quickly, it stabilizes and you get used to the new language, the new food, you start making friends. As everybody knows, roller coasters have many ups and downs, and so have exchanges.

But in the end, you realize you have to hop off the ride, and walk away from it. You don’t want to, but on the other hand, you know your family, your friends, your home, your bed, are waiting for you on the other side of the ocean. So, this bittersweet feeling comes back. Way more bitter than sweet in my case…

Because I had to leave what had become my family, my friends, my home, my bed. This all went by way too fast…

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You get down from this roller coaster with the outside certainty that you will ride it again over and over and over, but the inside fear that maybe you will never get to experience such an amazing experience, that you will never be given such a huge opportunity again…

So you walk away from it, and start feeling nostalgic. Maybe, all of this was just a dream, after all ! This need to go back to this ride is here, and some of us will fulfill this need, and go back on the roller coaster to visit their families, friends, homes, beds, across the globe. Others will let this away for a little bit, and go on other adventures in the amusement park.

This was my definition of being an exchange student. Our year abroad itself is the accomplishment of a lot of work and determination. It is a very enriching and learning experience. But in the end, if you look at your life like you look at an amusement park, and your exchange being that one roller coaster, you realize that many more opportunities are awaiting for you!

This guest post was written by Agathe, a 17 year old French Rotary Exchange Student to the USA (2014-2015)

Exchange Example Stories, Post-Exchange Life

I Never Left The Plane

This August marks the 8th anniversary of the beginning of my exchange year, when I was only a 16 years old kid who was trying to survive high school like everybody.

That day I left the comfort of my reality in Chile with this program called AFS (American Field Service) and went to this unknown country named Norway, only knowing the name of the capital, the name of my host family, and how to count from 1 to 8 in the local language.

Like many former exchange students, I could go for hours about all the stories I have from that year, both good and bad: New Year’s Eve with a blizzard, that time I fell on the snow while walking downhill, the joy and the cultural shocks I had with my host family and school, the russetid, the conversation with a Thai friend about the differences of the word «you» in both Spanish and Thai, etc.

However, there is but one thing I always highlight of that period: it redefined my life, my behaviour and ideas. The person I am today was born during that year.

As time went by and I came back to Chile, volunteering with other exchange students was the only place where I felt I connected.

At school I didn’t have many friends and having different priorities from my classmates eventually drove us apart. My mom hasn’t gone on exchange at any point of her life, but she somehow understood what I was going through, that my dreams and expectations were different from the people around me, and that the exchange students’ community was my place.

When I finished high school and decided to move to the capital for university, she gave me this smile and told me «I knew you would leave and do your own thing, because you never really got off the plane».

I didn’t have any idea of what she meant at that point, but I had a new year ahead so I just went with it. New city, new people, new life.

And of course, I kept being a volunteer with AFS. I eventually became the contact person to a Finnish student and the applicants I did the personal interview became returnees, and then volunteers themselves.

I was in my zone, with all the stories of cultural shocks and learning how to deal with them, understanding our own national identity through the stories of internationals, meeting different cultures from all over the place, languages, other ways of thinking, and so and so on.

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One day, some people went to my Faculty to promote the Exchange Program between my home university and several institutions around the world. The University of Oslo was among the names, I checked the programs, some classes and I called my mom telling her that I wanted to go on exchange to Norway again, if she could help me out financially and such. Her answer was «What took you so long?».

The application letter was rather easy because I clearly knew the reasons of why I wanted to go back to Norway: I was in love with the country and with being an exchange student, the decision of studying Environmental Engineering was heavily influenced by my year there.

I got accepted and while I was doing all the visa procedures I wrote an email to AFS Norway telling them I was going back and wanted to be a volunteer there. «Drop by when you come to Oslo » was their answer.

So in August 2014, I arrived once again to the Oslo airport. Walking in front of me was this woman whose passport fell to the ground, I grabbed it and told her «Unnskyld, det er din» («Sorry, it’s yours»), to which she told me thanks in Norwegian.

My first conversation in Norwegian in almost four years. It felt like home.

Sometimes, it was quite overwhelming to be a volunteer in Norway since many of the doubts the exchange students had were the same I personally had during my own exchange: how to interact with norwegians, how to speak to that person, how to behave with my host family.

I was reviving my own exchange through the experiences of these kids. Besides AFS, I also joined the Erasmus community within the University (even though I wasn’t an Erasmus myself), and with my own itchy feet I filled my schedule with all sort of international-related activities. Damn, I even joined the norwegian student parlament representing the international students.


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In the AFS pre-orientation for the Norwegian students who would go on exchange soon, I met this girl who was going to Chile, so we of course, ended up talking about this strange and thin piece of land. She began her exchange at the beginning of August 2015, almost at the same time I finished mine in Norway.

It was yet another side on the exchange experience, as some of the cultural shocks and experiences she was going through in Chile, I lived them on reverse in the other hemisphere.

It seemed that the intercultural learning would follow me everywhere I went, and I think I now understand what my mom meant with the «you never got off the plane».

I have been conciously and unconciously tied with internationaly-minded people since I first went on exchange, with the vast amount of humans that live here.

I have taken a bunch of planes here and there, but the dream of making the world a better place through mutual understanding among different cultures remains the same regardless of what’s the closest airport I have at the given moment.

Some say «Exchange is not a year in your life, but a life in a year», for me exchange has been a life within itself, this story of exchange is my story and the story of many other fellow people who have embraced the same life.

The moral of this long post?

Those of you have got inside the plane, don’t get off, the exchange will last as much as you want it. If that means forever, so be it!

jeg

 

This guest post was written by Javier Æøå, originally from Chile and an AFS exchange student in Norway.

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories, Final months of exchange

Why I Wasn’t Afraid to Go on Exchange, but am Afraid to Go Home

When I first realized that I wanted to go on exchange, I immersed myself in research. First, I frantically read about all the countries I was interested in going to. At that point I had two requirements, I wanted to go to Europe and I wanted to learn a new language. After weeks of researching, I came to the conclusion that Austria was the right country for me. At the time, I didnt know much about Austria other than stereotypes, including a love for skiing, beer drinking and the Sound of Music. The next few months were spent convincing my parents about all the reasons why it would be beneficial for me to participate in an exchange year. I scoured the internet for blogs where they could read about how fast other exchange students learned the language, immersed themselves in the culture, and what the benefits of an exchange were for them later in life. I guess you could say that I was obsessed with reading about other peoples experiences.

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When it was time to fly to Austria I was buzzing with excitement. I couldnt wait to meet my new family and see my new home. Although I was excited, I wasnt nervous. I had read in other exchange students blogs how you should have no expectations about your host country or family. I tried really hard not to expect anything, or have any ideas or plans on how my exchange year should be. I was completely open to new experiences. This lack of expectation for my exchange year helped with my nerves, and I think really helped me fit into with my host family and Austria.

Now Im almost nine months into my exchange. Ive made myself a life in Austria with a new friend group, family, language, and culture. One of my biggest obstacles in my exchange year was the language. At the beginning, I was so frustrated with myself because I wanted to speak and understand German so badly, and I felt as if I wasnt learning it quickly enough. Eventually around December, I went to a Christmas party, drank little too much wine (which gave me a lot of confidence) and I just spoke without thinking too much about it. That night something just clicked in my brain. I was so happy! Now, I understand almost everything, and while I still have problems with grammar I can speak my mind. Overcoming the language barrier was the last obstacle for me in feeling at home in Austria.

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The last few months here have been amazing, Ive really settled into my life. Sadly, however, it´s all slowly coming to an end. In less than 2 months I fly back to Canada. And Im honestly so afraid. I feel like Ive forgotten how my life was in Canada, and what my friends and family are like. Ive forgotten how I act around my friends and family and feel like Ive changed so much since coming to Austria that people in Canada may not recognize me anymore. I have so many expectations for what life will be like again in Canada, how my friends will act, and how the food will taste, that even though Ive lived in Canada for my entire life I still am afraid for what awaits me at home.

This exchange year has been wonderful and I would gladly repeat the experience. It has taught me a lot about the power of expectations and how they can affect a persons life and ability to start from scratch all over again. Hopefully, everyone can learn about the power of expectations from my adventure in Austria!

This post was written by Sam Treacy. You can read more of her on her blog Simply Wanderstruck

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories, Exchange Student Problems

The Day I Became Mexican

I am from Brazil, a state of Mexico, the biggest country in Latin America, I am tan, and my native language is Portuguese, which is the same as Spanish. I have always lived in the forest because we do not have cities there. We have to plant our own food and hunt wild animals. However, hunting is a man’s job only, because women are not able to do such a complicated thing. We usually have to cook our mandatory spicy food and wash the clothes in the river, but we need to be very careful with poisonous snakes. The only things that are entertaining to us are soccer, samba and Carnival—an event that lasts the whole year.
These things may sound unlikely or even ridiculous for someone to say or assume, but they are all assumptions that people have asked me about since the first time I stepped on American soil when I moved to Oregon two years ago. Most people automatically assume that I am from Mexico, and it might be because of my tan skin, my dark hair, and my Latin accent when pronouncing some words in English. Or it could be they’re so accustomed to relying on the shorthand syllogism “People from Mexico are tan. Latin Americans are tan. Therefore, all Latin Americans are from Mexico.”

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I am from Brazil, the largest country out of the twenty nations in Latin America, which hosts Sao Paulo, the biggest city proper in the Americas, the place where I was born and raised. Brazil has a population of 200.4 million people, and it is the having five World Cup titles—the most in the world. However, the country is not only made of soccer. Brazil has won a total of 108 medals in all Olympics, and tourists visit from all over to experience our vibrant arts, music, and dance culture. Brazilian cuisine is diverse and delicious, and only a small percentage of it is spicy.

Stereotypes exist because of a lack of curiosity and generalizations in our beliefs. It is often an automatic reaction to relate something new and unfamiliar to something familiar—even if that “something familiar” is only what we’ve heard other people say. A lack of knowledge creates an association between two distinct things resulting in a mistaken assumption of fact. No, Brazil is not part of Mexico. No, Portuguese and Spanish are not the same thing. No, I do not live in the forest. No, not all our food is spicy.

No, not all Latin Americans are from Mexico. I understand it is easy to make assumptions, but it is also easy to ask, 5th biggest country in the world. It has 26 states in its territory, and it is part of the emerging national economies group BRICS. Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, one of the eight Romantic languages that evolved from Latin, and also the official language of nine other countries. Brazil is known for “Where are you from?” “Where is that at?” or “What language do you speak?” No one needs to know every single detail about every country, but common respect and curiosity about every race, will keep our eyes open to all the beauties that other cultures have to offer

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This post was written by Isadora Cardoso, a Brazilian exchange student in Oregon (United States)

Culture, Exchange, Exchange Example Stories

Going from East to West

Coming from the east to live in the west: you can imagine how much culture shock I suffered. From a 90% Muslims country to a 97% Catholics country, yep, it’s different too. And if you are a future exchange students that also going to do an exchange from east to west and going to have a 360 degrees of change, here are some tips for you on facing your cultural differences.

#1 It’s different, not wrong.

That is the number one thing you should remember. There is no right or wrong in this ‘culture shock’ thing: it’s just different. 

“Oh but it is forbidden in my religious beliefs! And there, it is considered wrong.”

Son, remind yourself that you are doing an exchange for a new experience, for a new life, and especially, for a new culture. And no, culture are not only the art, the dance or the song, culture is the way of life. And the first thing that you should remember when you’re having a culture shock is that: that is how the people here lives

#2 Explain

There is nothing wrong with explaining and talking through what you think. You came from a different world, different country and most important, different culture. Tell your host family or the people that caused you the culture shock what happened.

It happened to someone you don’t know and you choose not to bark in to a stranger? Well, tell your host family. After all, your host family probably act the same as the stranger that you met since you live in their country. 

In my family in Italy, dinner time is sacred: that is when I should tell everything that I need to know or everything I think they need to know. Every dinner we talk about our day, so I am I with my day. I’ll tell them what happened, and they will tell me how to face it.

Explaining can also prevent the shock to happen again. For example, you are a Muslim girl and you can not be touched by other men except your brothers and father, since it is not right for your religious belief. But your Italian host father wanted to hug you since it is the way of Italian to show love. Tell him. Talk through to him, explain everything that in your religious belief you can not be touched. It is better than later when the other person wanted to do something that is not right and you have to act defensive.

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#3 Ask, ask, ask, ask!

Ask everything. Literally, everything. You might know how to use the toilet since it looks the same with the one in your house in your home country, but like I say, the people from the country you’re hosted might use it differently. 

Like explaining, there are nothing wrong with asking. Your family, friends and teachers know that you came from halfway around the world that makes you basically an alien. 

I, for one, always ask. Especially in the dinner table. The Italian eating style and Indonesian is really different. Indonesian eating style is very humble and traditional: sometimes we use our hands, even, without spoons or forks, and knife is barely used. But here in Italy: the opposite.

I always ask my family if I don’t know how to eat something. Like, “should I do this? Should I do that?” and my family will gladly show me how to do that. It might look like you’re stupid and like a pre-historic person, but well, you are there learning new cultures!

#4 Be a good observer

Although I don’t recommend this (I prefer you ask), be a good observer if you are too shy to ask. At the first time, you might be shocked with what people around you do, but, be a good observer. Find out why they do that. Do a background research. And, be a good observer and imitate. 

In Indonesia, I eat everything with a spoon, while here in Italy, I have to use the fork all the time. I don’t know how to do that at first, but also now I still find some discomfort eating with fork, but I look carefully at how my host family eat, and eventually, I imitated them. The shock will eventually gone, I am sure.

#5 Give up!

Confused? I’ll explain. Give up doesn’t mean that you go home to your home country and stop doing the exchange, but what I am implying here is: give up your old culture. You are learning a new culture, so, in order that new culture to get into your life, give up your old. And giving up doesn’t mean forgetting. It means that you have to accept the new culture.

At my first time using the bus to go home from school, I was really, truly, shocked by what happened. It was one of my biggest culture shock that I won’t forget. The Italian teenagers, after school, have no chill. They will fight for their seats on the bus to go home (because they are: a) tired  b) hungry  c) Italians don’t keep calm. Sums it up = chaos)

I struggled a bit at first. It was hard for me to get in the bus since there were a lot of people that wanted to have seat, that they will push you and give zero damn about you. I then remember that in Indonesia, they will get in one by one, or if they’re in a hurry, they will not push you away. One time, I was being an Indonesian and being calm, and I lost five buses that I had to walk 5 km to the city center to catch another bus.

I had a hard time: I wanted that calmness of Indonesian. But then, I give up. I accept the fact that that is how Italians live. And as I had written before, I imitated. (Also, I slowly became a) tired  b) hungry  c) have no calm after school) And guess what: right now I always get a seat in the bus.

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#6 Never compare!

It’s actually what exchange student always do, and I myself still do that also: comparing to our home countries. “In Indonesia, they…”; “they don’t do ….. in China”; “We don’t have this in Argentina”

While at some point comparing is important, for example, to explain why you are shocked or why you don’t do some certain things, but  keep on comparing things means that you don’t accept what’s in front of you. 

I, for one, at first didn’t like the Italian school system (I still kinda do, though). The Italian school system can be summed into one, single, strong word: boring. The students are passive and forced to sit and listen to what the teacher mumbling about for five hours with not a lot of interaction between them, and the students are forced to accept everything that the teacher say.

While in Indonesia, the students are forced to be more active, do fun projects and we have a lot of connection between the teacher and the student, we have a two-way connection, and although sometimes it sucks, the system in Indonesia made the students and the teachers partners. We could discuss different way of doing things, while here, according to me, not so much.

I did a comparison here but I need to explain. But, if I keep on comparing the school system, that means I don’t give up my old culture, and I can’t accept the new one. But as the time goes by, you will adapt. But adapting will be so much faster if you stop comparing things

That is how you could face the cultural differences, according to me. I know I am not perfect, but, I hope that this could help the future exchange students that will go on an exchange year. Ciao!

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This story was written by Aloysius Efraim, a student from Indonesia that is now doing  exchange year in Scorzè, Italy. If you want to know more about me, visit my blog indotaliano.wordpress.com or add him on Facebook.

 

Exchange Example Stories, Exchange Student Problems

I was sexually assaulted while studying abroad

To anyone who has been sexually assaulted while studying abroad, you are not alone. This is my personal story which I have not been brave enough to tell anyone until four months after exchange, when I finally opened up to a close friend.

Trigger Warning: Following contains content about sexual assault

I am an average girl. I am of average height and weight. I have average sized breasts. So how is it that I should come to be the victim of sexual assault?

At the beginning of my study-abroad year, I got voted “most likely to be the goody-two-shoes.” I hated this title, so I strove to break it. I thought it meant something bad, that I was the girl who would never let loose and have fun. In reality, being the “goody-two-shoes” of a group is not a bad thing.

It was this very first meeting with the other exchange students in my area that I made friends with a boy who lived in my city (for purposes of privacy, we will name him Daniel here.) Now, I thought Daniel was very handsome. He was tall and well built, and spoke with a slight accent. He seemed really experienced with girls, and I felt like I wouldn’t be enough for him, because I had only kissed three boys before exchange.

Daniel and I hung out a lot. He took me to parties and introduced me to drinking and to the “flag game.” For those unfamiliar with the flag game, the goal is to kiss people of different nationalities and thereby “exchange flags.” I thought Daniel was really teaching me to have fun. He told me repeatedly that this was the year to “slut it up.”

So “slut it up” became my motto.

I got pretty good at playing the flag game, and I always went to as many of the parties hosted by exchange students as I could. Always, Daniel was by my side whispering “slut it up” in my ear and handing me more alcohol to loosen me up.

One flags, five flags, ten, twenty.

By the next meeting with exchange students, people laughed with me about how they thought I would be the goody-two-shoes. I thought that they found me cool. However, I still hadn’t kissed Daniel.

One night we did kiss. I thought it was magical. Looking back on it, all I remember was that it was cold out and that he was a slobbery kisser. One week later, her invited me to his house. He wanted me to take my pants off, but I wouldn’t. So instead, he took off his pants and forced his way into my mouth. I gagged. It smelled like fish. When he was done, he said I was on my way to becoming a cooler girl. I felt sick to my stomach, but I believed him. I considered him a friend after all. I even wanted to be with him.

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In December there was a party. A pretty big one. I drank a lot. That night I got five flags or more, I can’t remember. One boy took me to the corner of the room and forced his hands into my pants. It didn’t feel good. The boy told me I was all his for the night. I got away by saying I would go get another drink. I don’t remember much more from the night, except that I ended up in a toilet stall with a friend who had taken care of me all night next to me. That boy asked me out a few weeks later and I became his girlfriend.

I thought that maybe having a boyfriend would stop men from doing whatever they wanted to me, but it didn’t.

By this time, I had fully gained the reputation of being a slut. Boys thought I had done all sorts of things which I hadn’t really. During parties, boys I thought were friends would get me drunk and then take me and do what they wanted to me.

I felt guilty. I thought maybe I was cheating on my boyfriend. By the end of the year, I got into a habit of drinking enough so I wouldn’t care what was going on to me. I can’t remember how many men forced me to kiss them. Forced their hands into my pants or my hand into their pants. How many times men would grab me.

I thought it was all my fault. That since I had gained a bad reputation I deserved everything that happened to me. Boys told me that I was great, that I was really a girl who knew what she wanted. But in the end, I didn’t want any of it. I didn’t want the flags, the reputation, the rumors.

I got to leave my life and reputation behind, but I still brought home my scars. Scars that may never fully heal. I still seize up when people touch me or my friends hug me. I am less talkative around boys.

I wish I had done my year differently. I wish I hadn’t listened to Daniel. I wish I had seen him for what he really was. I wish I had let my friends know what was going on, that I didn’t like what these boys were doing to me. I wish I had reported what had happened.

However, I can’t redo my year. I can only learn to heal my scars slowly at home and share my experience. Being alone in a foreign country and being sexually assaulted is hard. It may be unclear what steps should be taken, but it is not something to take lightly and shrug off. I suggest talking with close friends or family members, and reporting any incident of sexual assault. Don’t let yourself feel like an object.


  1. If you are in immediate danger, call your country’s emergency number.

  2. Go to a safe place.

  3. Call someone you trust for emotional support.

  4. Contact police or sexual assault hotline to report the incident.

This post as submitted to me anonymously. I would also like to note that victim blaming in the comments in no way tolerated.

Exchange Example Stories, Study Abroad

Why You Shouldn´t Be Afraid To Put Yourself Out There

Going abroad is like being handed a fresh piece of life, smoking hot out of the oven, with a note attached to it; be alive. It’s easy to lock yourself up in your room, and chat to your loved ones at home without even uttering two words to anyone else. But that’s to live, not to be alive. You will have to (wo)man up, get yourself out there and introduce yourself. It’s embarrassing, but you might also find new friends, new lovers, new families.

I knew this, and I knew I had to make the most out of my single semester in Aberystwyth, Wales. I have never been the type to say no to pie. So during fresher’s week, when the clubs were all lined up to welcome new students with open arms, I decided to open mine as well and go for a hug, not just a handshake. I wanted to do sports, so I started collecting pamphlets and asked as many questions as I could. Of course, I was nervous. Would I manage to find “my kind” of people? Not everyone I met felt right; some jock guys didn’t even look at me twice, just handed me a pamphlet and continued to talk among themselves. But once two boys in white doboks grinned at me, and asked if I wanted to join the Tae Kwon-Do club, I knew I needn’t be nervous.

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To get new friends, you need to put your worries aside. “Will they understand what I say? Will I understand what they say? Do I look stupid trying to do a side kick?” There will always be bumps along the way. I often had to repeat myself, sometimes I just nodded and smiled and I definitely looked stupid doing a side kick. But you know what, so did everyone else!

My instructor Harriet gave me many push ups as punishment for showing up late, but she also gave me many compliments. I got punched twice in the eye by Rowan, but he apologized by buying me a drink at the pub. Chris knocked my brain’s out, but then he gave me a hug. I was not at all perfect, but I was cared for. I felt it during every practice, every time we met in the halls, every Friday when we went to the pub. They showed that they cared by asking how I felt that day, buying me drinks, inviting me out, and I will never forget how they announced me “Student of the year” during Christmas dinner, giving me a bottle of champagne. It was shared after our last session before the holidays, drunk from plastic cups and underneath a staircase where we huddled together to seek shelter from the Welsh rain.

There were others as well, people I met because I went out there and dared to take the first step. Just asking “can I sit here?” to someone I’d only met once, lead me to eat dinner with the computer science students Chis and Joe almost every day. Joanna and I (sadly) found a dead bird, and next thing I knew, we were having tea. I joined the Hiking Club, and met up with the members every Sunday in order to climb yet another one of the amazing mountains of Wales.

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As I said, I felt loved, and even more so during my last night in Wales, when people cried and threatened to kidnap me. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to leave, but I did. I had people at home whom I loved as well, but I knew I would miss those I left behind.

What I am trying to say is; if you just dare to put yourself out there, you will find people who care. It doesn’t matter if you’re abroad for a whole degree, a year or even just a semester. You will need someone besides those you left at home. Sure, you can call your friends, but you can’t hug someone through a phone or share a bottle of champagne in the rain with someone on Skype.

It is not enough to live

You have to be alive.

Idaskivind

 

This guest post was written by Ida Brennodden, a norwegian girl who studied in Wales for one semester. If you´d like to read more from her, make sure to check out her blog. 

Exchange Example Stories, Exchange Student Problems, First months of exchange, Host Family, Mid-Exchange, Study Abroad, Uncategorized

I hated my host family

This guest post will be shared anonymously, but I think it´s an good read for those who are experiencing problems with their host families.

Just for the record; I had two host families during my exchange year. And I hated both of them.
There was a difference, though.

It had always been my wish to go on an exchange, partially because of the ´living with a host family´ experience. It just seemed so exciting to me to have new brothers and sisters, that were different but you could do all sorts of fun stuff with. A family you can call your own family. One you can send letters and cards, and visit with your real family and then have a slightly weird and awkward family photo. Not that I don´t like my real family, au contraire, but the idea of cultural exchange + having a new family just seemed really exciting to me. We had even hosted students before, which had been hard sometimes but in the end always a lovely experience. I expected my experience as a host family would make my experience a little bit easier because I knew how hard it could be for the family as well and I promised myself I would do ANYTHING to make it work out with mine.

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When I arrived at my first host family I was extremely excited. It took a while for my exchange organisation to find me one, which was extremely nerve-wracking (you must understand this struggle). When I finally got to meet them it was the first time I had heard about them, and also the first time they heard about me, which was a little odd. When getting the news they were allowed to host an exchange student, they didn´t even know what gender I was going to be. I had a sister and a brother and our house, even though it was small, it was truly amazing. It seemed everything I had hoped for.

Yes the weeks passed by and these little things weird things came up all the time. They ignored the fact that I had already been learning a lot of the language. From all of the arriving exchange students, I was one of the most advanced when it came to language, yet whenever they had a chance they would remind me that I wasn´t good at all, that I couldn´t understand anything. And not as a joke, or as constructive criticism. They also tended to be confused on where I was actually from, even after one month and me repeatedly telling and explaining them. It sounds silly, but it feels so bad when people don´t know or don´t recognize where you are from. When you go on exchange you get so confronted with your nationality and your identity, and when people don´t see that it´s like you are some ghost. A weird ghost that doesn´t fit in there, but apparently also doesn´t have a clear home.

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There were more things, some of which are maybe better not shared on the internet, but all these little details made that I felt more and more uncomfortable. I cried so many times, and I didn´t even know why. I didn´t miss my family, I didn´t want to go home, I just didn´t feel comfortable with them. As days and days passed by, I realized I truly hated being with them.

So I changed families, something which I had sworn not to do. I felt terrible because I knew how bad my family felt whenever we had problems with an exchange student, and I didn´t want to hurt my host family. After all, they were kind enough to take me into their house, to share their lives with me! But somehow I could not stay there any longer.

When I arrived to my second family they also didn´t know what gender or nationality exchange student they were getting, but they were a little bit more understanding when I explained where I was from. Again, I had a brother and a sister. A sister whom I shared a room with. The material situation had definitely not improved. The house was smaller, and I had to share a room with my sister, but I didn´t care at all as I was just happy to have left the first family.

And with my new family everything went well. We had an amazing first month, they took me everywhere, I got to meet the rest of the family. Of course we had our problems, maybe even more problems than I had with the first family, but I felt like they were also trying to solve these issues, something I hadn´t felt with the first family. Months passed and I got into a huge fight with them. It was about something silly, as it always is, but I truly hated them at that moment. It was a different kind of hate though than I had felt with my first host family. It was the kind of hate you have when your mom tells you you can´t go to that concert in London because teenage girls aren´t supposed to travel to rock concerts alone kind of thing. It was as if they were my real family.

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I am writing this post for all exchange students who are struggling with their family and are thinking about changing. Remember that even with your real family you get annoyed, you get angry, you wish you could disown them at times. But they are your family, so you don´t. Looking back, I think my first family just wasn´t fit for being a host family. My second family was. And even though it wasn´t always easy and they maybe didn´t even feel like ´real´ family yet, I realized that the source of my annoyance was not a reason to change family, and you will never find the ‘perfect´ host family. All my friends who were sharing the most lovely photos of their happy family were the ones who eventually changed. When thinking of changing families, try to realize it is not all going to be perfect and think whether your annoyance is temporary, or it´s a longer standing issue. If so, try to talk to them first. Tell them you are uncomfortable or not yet used to the way they do things. A solution has to come from both sides. In case one of both sides is not willing to cooperate anymore, then think about changing families.

This guest post will be shared anonymously in order not to offend any of the families involved.

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories

A letter to future exchange students

Dear future exchange students,

Being an exchange student is hard. Yeah, it is also fun and you get so much out of it but I really wish someone would have told me how hard it was going to be. I have been here 7 months and I don’t think I have ever been this lonely, seriously.

You can often feel alone, like no one really understands what you’re going through. I mean you’re in a foreign country miles away from all the people you know and familiar places. Also making friends can be rather difficult (this all really depends on your country) you have to start completely fresh, and the problem is you’ll have expectations in your head that you’ll get friends like the ones you have at home but to actually establish a relationship with someone will take some time and you’ll have to be committed to trying your hardest. You’ll also have to remember not everyone is going to want to be your friend, people will lose interest in the ‘new girl’ so make the most of those first crucial weeks to bag some friendship points, sounds magical I know. Be prepared for those days where you’ll feel lost, confused and invisible because trust me you’ll have quite a few of those especially in the beginning.

People will have expectations of you, they will make assumptions and sometimes not bother to ask if you can do things but rather just tell you to do them anyways. I met with my school support teacher and she reminded me that not everyone is going to understand what its like because not everyone has experienced what you will be going through. You will have to be patient and calm, if the work is stressing you out or you’re not ready to do something your friends (hopefully you’ll have some) expect you to do then don’t be afraid to say so. Take baby steps, do what you can and dont feel bad for not being able to live up to peoples expectations.

Most importantly remember this exchange is about YOU! Lately I have been putting myself in uncomfortable and emotionally draining situations because I was more concerned about catering to other people’s needs than making myself happy. You are having this experience so that you have a good time. Before I left for my exchange I was reading a kiwi girls blog about being an exchange student in Denmark and she said that if you are not feeling included, supported or noticed in your class after a couple of months, change class. You need to feel like you fit in, if you feel out of place or that you are just too different then you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable for your whole exchange.

Be prepared for stereotypes and feeling misunderstood, most of the time you’ll meet people who have no idea about anything related to your country, I still get really hurt by this but just try to educate people on where you come from. I always find most of the time no one wants to learn about where you come from because you’re supposed to be immersing yourself into their culture but don’t forget your roots and your values along the way.

Lastly keep in mind most people won’t understand what you’re going through half the time, you’ll get remarks like “why are you so tired you do nothing in class” “you’re so lucky you don’t have to do much work” or such things like “you’re in my country and we don’t do things like that here”. It’s hard to relate to someone on an exchange unless you’ve been on one yourself, they won’t understand how draining it is to just try and join in for 30 minutes, learning a new language is the most tiring thing I’ve ever tried to do and yes I have tried the gym but language beats that by far! Some days you won’t feel like going out and others you’ll just want to explore. Take your time and be kind to yourself. I always used to think I wasn’t allowed to feel bad and sad about my exchange because I chose to come, I decided to do it but you’re allowed to have those days, in fact you need them to keep you sane I mean how can you move across the world and not get down about it every once and a while?

Exchanges are hard but they are so rewarding and you get to experience so much in such a unique way. You’re not a tourist you’re a local with friends and a life and you get to have this amazing year that will forever be yours. You’re also going to get the most amazing friends you could ever imagine, it’s true that exchange students are the best kind of people, you’ll get life long friends from across the globe and nothing can compare to sharing something as life changing as this with people just like you, it’s kind of unreal and hard to explain until you’ve experienced it.

All the best of luck, you’ll have an amazing and unforgettable time I promise.

Love, Kezia

 

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This post was written by Kezia Doyle, an 18-year-old exchange student from New Zealand currently doing her exchange in Denmark. She has a blog called Keeping up with Kezia

Exchange Example Stories

Things I am glad I did during my exchange

Returning from the States, it doesn’t feel as though I have come home but instead it feels like I have traveled to another country. Going abroad has ripped my innocence apart whilst changing the way I view not only my own country but rather the people around me and myself as a person. At first I was really mad at myself for getting myself into a mess ! Living with a completely strange family whom I had only communicate through Facebook for a couple of weeks, going to a high school consisting of a thousand over students, eating bizarre foods daily and being so far away from my loved ones. But hey look at me now, I have come out of the storm and approached the rainbow being stronger and wiser than ever!

Looking back at the past five months of exchange that I had to the U.S., there are several things that I have learnt which I am grateful for but there are also certain things that I terribly wish that I have done like by more souvenirs and not spend as much money as I did on Starbucks.

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Things I’m glad I did

Take relaxing classes in high school

My exchange program required me to attend high school although technically I had come close to completing  high school in my home country. So, I decided to take some what I’d like to call ‘not very academic’ classes. Among the classes that I took include Global Cuisines, American Political Radicalism Thoughts, Cultural Studies and Yoga. I didn’t take any AP classes or so but however, if your results during your exchange year does contribute to your grades back home then you might have to take several compulsory subjects. Although I had to have a social studies, science and english credit each, I took the light subjects and lucky for me that I got a GPA of 4.0 at the end of my school year !

Making friends from all over the world

During my exchange year, majority of my other friends were also exchange students from different countries. This was because we met up frequently and even went on several excursions together. And the plus point is, who else can relate to an exchange student better than another exchange student ? Believe it or not, just by talking to them it feels like I’ve traveled to their countries and immersed myself in their culture. Because that’s what exchange students are ! When you go abroad, you are your country and when people know you, they know your country.

Not eat food from home

So this might sound weird but trust me, after not eating any Malaysian food for six long months, the moment I got to smell curry and fried noodles again when I got home felt incredibly heavenly ! There was one time in my Global Cuisines class when we were doing the international chapter, my class got the chance to cook several Malaysian dishes but then, well unfortunately, it tasted nothing like what it was supposed to ! But it was a really good opportunity for me to introduce part of my culture to my fellow American classmates as a big part of my country’s culture lies in the food that we eat.

Lots of traveling

While in the U.S. I managed to travel across about 8 states. While that’s only about one sixth of the 50 states but hey in a period of 6 months, that’s pretty good ! So whatever opportunity you have to travel across the country that you’re hosted in, go for it ! In the placement organisation I was hosted under, we had some funds sponsored for our trip so the cost that we had to pay were very low ! So you should find out about these kinda things while you’re abroad so that you could make full use of your stay abroad and finally visit some of your long-awaited dream places !

Spending time with host family

If I said that I spent most of my time with my host family, I would be lying because I actually spent most of it in high school. In my program, I was voluntarily hosted by a beautiful family in the city of Worthington in Ohio. Back home, I am a very family oriented person as well so that is how I was abroad as well. I spent most of my weekends at home with my family including the holidays as well as spring break. When school was out, I spent a plenty of time home with my siblings and I’m grateful that I did so because we did crazy things that I will never forget. While some exchange students will have close bonds with their host families, there are also some who will only have a moderate kind of relationship with their host family but instead will make friends that will last for life so it differs accordingly depending on the individual. You might even be able to have the best of both worlds !

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To those of you who will soon be leaving your country to study abroad as an exchange student, keep the phrase YOLO in mind ! It is not always that you get to stay abroad and experience a day-in day-out life in a foreign country so make full use of it ! Do not be afraid to approach other people first and always try to mention that you are an exchange student to get people around you be more engaged in the conversation that you have because the chances are that they have never been to your country before and if they have, then wouldn’t it be lovely for you to reminisce about the enjoyable moments that you guys spent there ?

This is a guest post written by Seervina Virk, a Malaysian girl who spend her exchange year in the United States. Born in 1997 and turning 18 this Christmas, Seervina Kaur Virk is a Kennedy Lugar Youth Study & Exchange 2015 scholar from Malaysia who experienced the American dream. Currently pursuing Actuarial studies and hoping to change the world someday! Feel free to follow her blog my-purpose-thereafter.tumblr.com where she relates how her exchange has effected life day in and out.