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Exchange Student Problems

Homesickness, Living Abroad

How To Survive Homesickness Hypothermia

“I realized that there’s some parallelism in this: freezing and losing ourselves in a strange culture. In other words, the way to cope with homesickness and cultural stagnation can be summarized in a list of similar steps that the ones followed in order to counter hypothermia.”

A few months ago, whilst writing my new novel, I wanted to portray one of the most complicated steps of the adaptation to a new country. This story is focused on an immigrant who goes to seek her fortune in better lands so, in a dialectic exchange between the two main characters, this foreign girl asks the native how to counter the cold that bashes the European lands, comparing it with the distressing eternal summer of her nation. And so, he explains to her the process of avoiding frostbite in case of an emergency, alluding to the only way to cope with change

While balancing writing and remembering my own cold nights, where the radiator just didn’t make the cut, I realized that there’s some parallelism in this: freezing and losing ourselves in a strange culture. In other words, the way to cope with homesickness and cultural stagnation can be summarized in a list of similar steps that the ones followed in order to counter hypothermia.

So, I wrote down five steps on how to survive a foreign blizzard. In case of emergency.

1) In case of a blizzard, to tend the emergency, the priority must be to withdraw from the cold zone, from air drafts and, immediately, remove ones wet clothes, in case of having them, and dress warmly.

Ah yes, the cold zone. The arrival. The start of facing the unknown and crying on the bed, repeating to yourself “what was going through my mind?” Let’s start by repeating instead I am brave, I am capable. This phrase helped me to wield the blade against those nights in which desolation becomes almost unbearable. If you have arrived to this point, you can take on anything. And the air drafts? The wet clothes?

Paraphrasing my novels’ deuteragonist: “…first, you make sure you keep what is only yours, you shelter it and hide it, so you never lose it.” Yes, it’s important to dress our national identity warmly, to keep it in a box, lock it and safeguard it always near, because it may be whipped by the diverse conditions. No one else will have it in the host country, not identical at least. It’s easy to leave our box forgotten in the snow. Don’t open it when you get there because it’ll hurt. A lot.


2) Make sure you warm up your body with whatever is at your reach. Like blankets or wool clothes.

Homesickness normally creeps in in a way that we clutch ourselves with our little identity box, without wanting to move forward and accept the landscape that’s been presented before our eyes. I remember a moment in my time away from my home country where the touristic places seemed dull, uninteresting. I just wanted to stay locked up in my room, with my pc and the online connection of my friends back home.

There, the skin needs to be warmed with what we have at hand: new neighbors, strolls through the smallest of towns. Meeting the people around you, for more different that they may seem, or the places that at first glance don’t awaken your curiosity. Yes, it may not be the most exciting thing at the beginning, but those little moments warm up the soul.

It gives a new perspective to our eyes and, although it may not feel like that at the moment, we’re learning, maturing, and adapting step by step. If you ever return to your country of origin, you’ll see how much this little interactions and walks can mean. You’ll come to endear them with nostalgia. And even the smallest thing (train travels, the smell of the bakery around the corner…) becomes memorable.

3) Prevent the person from falling asleep and carefully observe their respiration. Normally, the appetite decreases, but eating is necessary to avoid hypoglycemia.

“…Then you get stronger, getting in contact with everything that surrounds you, but without letting yourself forget of who you are. You’ll feel that you don’t need it: your language, your identity, and so, you start to let it fade. Don’t let it happen.” Said the native. Indeed, customs and traditions fade away. The outlines that formerly defined us as an exotic, special person, become blurry in this anticipated step of adaptation. But it’s not to be forgotten that those same differences, that striking skin tone, that intolerance towards new eating habits and the strong, protruding accent, are the ones that have formed us in our host country. They are our roots, and a tree won’t blossom without them. To cut it is to alienate.

4) Move your fingers, hands or feet slowly and constantly. It is popularly believed that the less you move, more body heat will be retained. But it’s vital to keep the body in movement and to massage it in circles to increase the blood flow.

The so-called “superficial adaptation” comes when we enter a comfort zone. Where we’re pleased, where we’re merely fine. This is what I see as the most dangerous step, and the furthest one, towards cultural freezing. Where we get ourselves stuck in a little corner, accepting our facet of the immigrant and making it a part of us, retaining all of the negative connotations it holds as ourselves and coming to settle with a “good enough” situation for “someone like us”. No, you deserve more. More than a derogatory tone when we face the cashier while shopping.

More than becoming the aim of stereotypical jokes and pejorative addressing. Don’t remain neglected, don’t be aggressive either. Keep moving forward, the emotional hole in which we remain stuck will never be a true home, despite that it may seem so at the beginning.

5) Keep the body close tight besides yours or someone else’s, to accelerate body warming

Value your friends. Your foreign brothers, your broken-heart-colleagues. You’ll realize that, indeed, having a family isn’t always about sharing blood, but sharing hardships, tears. Nobody knows how long is the path that you’ve had to go through, but they may know how hard it is, they’ve walked their own.

When you find people that, besides language barriers, social conventions and cultural brakes, you can still manage to understand, you’ll have discovered that secret language that only the ones that have crossed frontiers know, that only the ones who have befriended someone who resides on the other side of the world can speak. That only the ones who’ve had to say goodbye to someone to faraway lands can read in someone else’s gestures.

Treasure them. Show them your identity, open the box. And so, we won’t be frozen in an episode of our lives, but own it, and make it a part of a whole.

“And when you learn to tell them apart, you will have found a home. It may not be the most comfortable one, or the safest. But a home, at the end of the day.”

This guest post is an extract from the novel Cómo sobrevivir una tormenta extranjera (How to survive a foreign storm), Larissa Quesada

Exchange Student Problems, Study Abroad 101

How To Beat Homesickness

Homesickness. It is probably something everyone has to deal with at some point in their life, and it´s awful. However, despite what it might feel like, homesickness might not necessarily be about you missing ‘home´ but more about you missing ´a home´, in the sense that you might miss the feeling of a more stable, reliable and familiar situation. The lack of a familiar situation can make you nostalgic for the things you had before, even if you never even liked them at the time (in the academic world, this is called the Nutella Syndrom). This can result in you trying to hold on to the past, which will make the homesick, ending up in a vicious cycle. However, you can break this cycle by following these two steps.

Step 1: Make Peace With Your Old Home

It´s very normal to feel homesick from time to time, but it´s a horrible feeling that ultimately will make all parts of your life much harder. After all, your home what you have known for a big part of your life. The challenge is to find a balance in cherishing the memories, without this interfering with your new life.

Now, in order to get rid of your homesickness you have to make peace with the fact that the place you are longing for is not a reality at the moment, and that doesn´t have to be a bad thing. Things change all the time, and so you have to change. Try not to think in the past but in the future.

A very important part of not trying to live in the past is to make sure the way you are keeping contact with your friends and family back home isn´t taking over your life. If you want to know what the best way to keep contact with home is, click here to read the article ‘How To Keep Contact With Your Friends And Family While Being Abroad´.

One thing that can help is to write yourself a letter about all the things you didn´t like about home. You can write this letter beforehand, in a moment you are angry or upset, but if you are suffering from homesickness right now it might be a better idea to write a list of things you didn´t like. This can be anything from the weather to family arguments or a bad valuta. This is not necessarily to demonize your old home, but for you to find a balance. When feeling homesick people often romanticize and idealize their old home, and ´ ideal´ places could never live up to reality.


Step 2: Create A New Home

This might seem like an obvious one, but getting a new home will most likely take care of the nostalgic feelings you are having about your old home. The best way to do this is to create a routine that you follow. Decorate your place in a way that makes it feel like home. Of course, this is easier said that done, but here are a few things you can think of.

Create A Routine

Try to do certain things at the same time. That means waking up at the same time, taking a morning walk around the same park, getting coffee at the same place, giving a dollar to the same homeless man in front of the supermarket. Creating a new routine will help you find your place when everything is new and will help create a more stable environment.

Part of this might be to decorate your house, and make it into a home! Hang pictures on the wall (preferably pictures that aren´t of your friends and family back home). Try to make it a nice environment that will make you feel comfortable and more at ease.

Learn The Language

When you move to a different place and don´t know the language, it´s hard to expect to feel at home. Learning the language might be hard, but putting in all the effort in the first months will definitely pay off on the long run!

In order to make more contacts, you could also join a Language Exchange group, or ask people around you to help. You would be surprised how many people are willing to help you learn! But don´t forget, you are the outsider, which means you will have to take most of the initiative. Local people already have a social circle and even if they really did enjoy meeting you, for them there is just not the same amount of pressure to make a new friendship or to make an effort to meet you.

Create New Traditions

One of the things we usually miss about our old homes are the traditions. Therefore, an easy solution to missing the old traditions is to make new ones. Have a dinner night at your place every Friday night. Have a certain spot where you and your friends always meet. Try to incorporate some of the local traditions into your daily life. Even if you don´t get them, or they are not the same as they were at home, new traditions will quickly make you feel more at home and before you know it, you´ll be in some other place feeling homesick for the new memories you have created. 


Make Friends

Obviously having a group of friends around you is very beneficial to your well-being, and I don´t think I have to spend any more words explaining why. If you are not sure how to go about making new friends, don´t panic. In the post ‘How To Make Local Friends Abroad´ I explain how you can find yourself some local friends.a

Again, don´t forget, you are the outsider, which means you will have to take most of the initiative. Local people already have a social circle and even if they really did enjoy meeting you, for them there is just not the same amount of pressure to make a new friendship or to make an effort to meet you, which is why it is sometimes hard to make friends abroad. Don´t worry though, realizing why people sometimes don´t  seem to care as much as you do is half of the work. Don´t feel afraid to ask someone again if they couldn´t make it the first time.

If you´d rather have international friends, you might want to consider joining an Expat or Exchange student network. Facebook offers a great amount of Facebook group these days, so just try and search for ‘Expats [ insert city or province name ]´ and see what comes up!

Or maybe you could even join a dating site or use an app like Tinder to go on romantic dates. Having some love in your life could make all the pain go away in a second!

Talk about it

It´s okay to let people know you are struggling with this. Maybe not everyone will understand to the same extent what it feels like to miss home, but the majority of people are more than understanding to the subject, and the fact that they know you are going through this can make them more open and helping towards you.

One of the most comforting things in hard times is knowing that you are not alone. Therefore, it might even be more comforting to speak to other foreigners, as they are probably going through the same process. Even if other people don´t seem to show it, you will probably be surprised how many people are feeling just as miserable as you at times (and are really good at hiding it!). Feel no shame, you are not alone!

Keep a journal

I would recommend everyone to do this. Keeping a diary can help you reflect on your emotions. It´s good to read back things you have written years, months or even days before. It can help you remember the things you maybe didn´t like when you were back home, or how much you longed to go abroad. It can also keep track of your progress in the process of feeling at home in your new place. Reading back the first impressions you had, how lost you felt in the first days will make you realize how far you´ve come already.


In the end, time might be the best remedy. Don´t beat yourself up about, because feeling homesick is natural. Just don´t think that going back home will solve that problem.

If you ever feel the need to talk, you can always reach me through the Nationality Unknown Facebook page


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.”


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



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

Exchange Student Problems, Homesickness, Mid-Exchange, Study Abroad, Study Abroad 101

Why Christmas Might Be The Hardest Time To Be Abroad

To be honest, I am not a big fan of Christmas. In my family it is not really a big deal, plus I hate cold weather. Two reasons why I thought I wouldn´t have a lot of problems being in a tropical paradise around this time of year. I was excited to experience such a big event in a different country/culture, and I was excited for not having to spend it in the actual winter. But in reality I thought the time around Christmas to be much harder and in all honesty, it might have been the only time I actually felt homesick. Here are some reasons why Christmas for many students might be the hardest time to be abroad

#1 It´s a family thing

Like I mentioned, yes, Christmas is usually celebrated with family, and although I did not actively missed my family during my exchange as I was just too busy with other things, not spending Christmas with them did feel a little weird. Suddenly I felt nostalgic over all the drama that usually comes with the last days of December.

You don´t even have to be a family person to miss your family during Christmas, which would make it all the harder for those who do actively miss their family. Being with a new family that probably still feels too new to really feel the same comfort with as at home, not having this ´tradition´ to look forward to, which can make it a hard time of year

#2 It doesn´t feel like ´ Christmas´

Yes, you know it´s going to be different, but you still have this expectations of a feeling you always get, so when it´s 30 degrees warmer outside or your family doesn´t have a Christmas tree, it might not ‘feel´ like that celebration you usually love to much, and it´s hard to get into something when you are not ´feeling it´.

#3 It comes at the worst time of your exchange

Depending on when you leave for your exchange, Christmas usually comes in the middle of an exchange. This means you have probably already gotten used to your host country. Everything feels normal, to the degree it starts getting boring. Your host family starts to feel like real family, to the degree that you are starting to feel little annoyances with them.

In the Cultural Adjustment Cycle, you would commonly find yourself in stage 4 now, where you have overcome the initial adjustment and are now getting to know the deeper issues of a culture.


For those who have not seen it during their orientation camps, culture is often compared to an iceberg. There are a lof of obvious things that everyone can see. The way people dress, eat, etc. These things are strange at first, and you have to get used to them, but they are also quite easy to accept.
But any iceberg, as we all know, is much larger underwater than above the water, which means there are many many more things that we don´t see. Those things are not only harder to see, they also go way deeper into someone´s way of thinking. Eating might be a fairly easy thing to change, but things such as hand gestures might be so unconscious they are way harder to address.

And to continue the iceberg metaphor, icebergs are more likely to clash ´underwater´.

Without making this post too preachy; it is normal to have a little dip during this Christmas period. It is in fact part of your cultural assimilation (and means that you are on track). Believe me, I had a period where I hated everything about my host country. I wasn´t necessarily feeling homesick, but I was also not understanding the local culture which was extremely frustrating. But in the end, it passed, and without trying to claim I now ‘fully understand´ my host culture, bit by bit you will start accepting, understanding and appreciating it more.

But for now, good luck in these hard times and I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Note; These experiences are generalized and are not the same for everyone. If you are having a great time and are feeling none of these issues at all, I am really happy for you 🙂

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.


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, Exchange Student Problems

No, you did not choose the wrong country

While you are in the middle of your exchange, you see all the amazing pictures of people enjoying themselves while you might actually be having some other feelings about your exchange, which is perfectly normal. Everyone will probably at least once in their year ask themselves why they wanted to leave everything behind to go to a country they don´t know, to live with a family they know even less.


And with all the doubts that come with an exchange, one of the most common ones is the choice of country. Not everyone might feel this way, but I certainly know I did. There were so many things I loved about my host country before I left, I made an entire list of it. It just seemed perfect in so many ways. My expectations were obviously unrealistic, but the reality of an exchange combined with the reality of my host country was quite confronting, making me doubt my decision. At times, not even just doubt. Just having that feeling of making the wrong decision.

When I was at my 6 month low I did what my exchange organisation told me I would do. I started hating the country, hating the culture. I was so sure I had made the wrong choice, while all my friends were having fun in places that were just ‘so much better´ than my host country. But without a doubt they were looking at my photos, seeing all the beaches and sun and imagining it was just ‘perfect´.


Maybe you are clashing with the culture. Maybe it´s just not what you had expected it to be. But you did not make the wrong choice, because there is simply no right choice. Most people base their choice for their host country upon stereotypes of different realities but the truth is; no country is perfect. For whatever reason you have for doubting your choice, there is another reason you would have had if you had you gone to a different country. Looking back I see how unrealistic my expectations were, of my exchange being perfect but most of all; of my host country being perfect.

I used to think all the time how easy it must have been for the people doing an exchange in my home country. I thought people must be so much more open-minded, more used to cultural differences, not so strict. And I heard all students around me say the same thing. All of us Europeans agreed; doing an exchange in Europe is PERFECT.

But when I came back and became a volunteer, I realized people in my home country were running in to the EXACT same problems I was running into. They got ignorant questions too, they struggled making real friends too, they also had strict host families that wouldn´t let them leave the house. They were saying to each other “an exchange in Latin America would be PERFECT”. It was weird for me because in my eyes that wasn´t the country I knew. In my eyes it was easy to make friends, my parents were super relaxed and let me leave all the time. But that was because I knew the culture, I knew how to make friends, and my parents had known me for so many years they knew me and trusted me, whereas a new student for which you carry responsibility who doesn´t know what to do in a country is a lot harder to let go out of the house alone.

So to all of you who are having doubt:

No, you didn´t choose the right country. You also didn´t choose the wrong country. Because there are no wrong or right countries. Some countries might be a bigger challenge, but from experience I know that those who struggle more, get the ´better´ experience in the sense that it changes them a lot, for the better. As long as you finish your exchange, there is no right or wrong choice. Looking back you will always think it was the right choice for some reason, whether you met your best friend, your partner, had a great host family, learned a new language or maybe even because you realized living abroad maybe isn´t the thing for you. When you think that you have chosen the ´wrong´ country, just know that in another country you would have ran into other problems, and no matter what you do in life there will always be ‘What if´s¨, there will always be this alternate scenario that turned out better than the situation you are in now, but that´s not how life works. You can´t make decisions with knowledge from the future. Don´t think about things being ´wrong´ or ´right´ for you, accept that thinking about how it could have been won´t change a thing about your situation right now and most of all; make the most of the opportunity you have right now even though it might not be the way you hoped it would be, because later you will be thankful.



Exchange Student Problems, Study Abroad

Wait, Why Did I Choose To Go On Exchange Again?

It seemed like such a fun idea at the time. Going abroad, meeting all these new people, getting to ´start over´, learn about a new culture, travel. But in every exchange there comes a time when things start to get normal. Let´s face it, no exchange is a constant highlight, and even if it was you´d get to used to it you wouldn´t even notice anymore how much fun you are having. So when you are having a bad day, we all ask ourselves from time to time “Wait, why did I go on exchange again?”


I know I asked myself so many times why I went on exchange, or why I picked the country I picked. I never really regretted it, or wanted to go home, but it just wasn´t what I had expected. It was harder to fit in than I had thought and getting close friends (besides other exchange students) wasn´t always easy. So why did I do it? Why would someone give up a good life, friends, family, for one year to go explore something completely unknown to them?

And even though I knew why I did it, I felt like I was letting people down, letting myself down, because I wasn´t always enjoying myself. I felt like I had to live up to this idea of a perfect exchange, being the perfect student, but it wasn´t the perfect year and I wasn´t the perfect student. It was so much harder than I thought and it made me realize how good my life was back home. I appreciated all the things I used to hate about my home country.

I missed my friends and family but most of all I missed being in a culture where people understood me and where I understood people. I realized how blessed people are who live in their home countries because they never run into awkward cultural situations where their intentions were good but they were interpreted in a different way.

Looking back I am proud I did it. Looking back I know how much fun it actually was, even though most of the times I didn´t even realize it. I see all these 16-year-old kids with their phones smoking and trying to be cool, and I remind myself that at that age I decided I wanted to do something more with my life. I wanted to learn a new language. I wanted to explore the world. And I still want these things, it makes perfect sense I would want that.

But it´s amazing that at such a young age I already knew what I wanted. Going on exchange only made that sense stronger. I see so many people in doubt of what they want, like or who they are. Not me. Not in the same way. The only thing I struggle with is to set my mind on where to go next, because I want to go everywhere (let´s face it, the struggle is real).

But to get back to the main question; if you are asking yourself “Why did I go on exchange?”, let me tell you why.

Because you want more from life. You are not the person that will always do the ‘ordinary´ thing, so don´t try to be! Trust me, I know how hard an exchange can be. Even though it might not feel like it AT ALL and you think you are the only exception to the rule, the more time passes, the more you will realize this is the year of your life. It will shape you in the way you act, the way you handle things, the decisions you will make. You have probably heard this so many times and you are probably thinking “Stop talking, you know nothing about my exchange¨ and you are right, but I do know about my exchange and I know I felt EXACTLY like that. I also know that my thoughts on my exchange changed drastically once I got home.

An exchange isn´t always fun, it´s not always easy, it´s not always glamorous, but it is ALWAYS worth it.

Exchange Student Problems, Host Family

Going Home To The “Perfect” Family

Most kids go on exchange for the language, culture and new experiences. Me, I went to
get away from my parents. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted the other perks from exchange too, and
I do love my parents, but I just can’t stand them. I went my Junior year to Belgium. I had two
pretty casual host families that basically let me do what I wanted. For once, I had the power to
make my own decisions without my parents influence, and I loved it. I grew to be so independent
that once I got back, I found myself avoiding my parents just after a couple days.

My family is that family that you look at and say, “wow, they’re so perfect.” My parents
are both very accomplished people who also happen to be very critical. As a result, my sister and
I feel so little when we are around them, that we try to avoid being criticized constantly as much
as possible. People only know what I want them to know about my family. Only my friends
know I have a sister, and only my closest friends know why I never see her. My sister and I don’t
get along with my parents. I try, but my sister tries to have the least amount of contact possible,
but enough so that they will still pay her college tuition. This might sound very cold, but trust
me, what happens in the “perfect” family behind closed doors is messier than you would
Coming back into this mess has been the hardest thing about returning from exchange. I
need to keep myself together through this mess so I can get out. The only way I really coup with
it is taking my mind off of things, and focusing on living my life again. I’ve distracted myself
with the school musical, hiking, friends, and school work. If I didn’t have these things to distract
I think it is important for all former exchange students going back into high school to
distract themselves from the world of family, mean girls and jocks. Just getting through that last
year, that defining year, is incredibly important when applying to colleges and looking toward
the future. In my case, flunking out is not an option, so instead I keep going. I keep up in all my
classes no matter how boring or close minded they are. I’m not the greatest student, but for me,
focusing on school is what will get me through this year.

For all of those kids out there struggling to adjust back to your family, school, and
friends; you’re not alone. We have all been forced back into the cave, and are waiting for what
feels like forever to get back into the light; into the world of independence. (Yes that is from
Plato). We will get through this battle together and once again, get back out there into the real
world. As a famous high schooler once said, “We are all in this together.”

This post was admitted anonymously


Exchange Student Problems, Final months of exchange, Homesickness

Homesickness: Fact or Fiction?

If you know me at all, you know I’m one to take risks. I’d rather jump off the deep end than ease in from the shallow side. This is how I ended up in South America. Why go to college close to home when you can get on a plane and go to another part of the world for a year? So far this thinking is working well for me. However, there’s a misconception that people who dive into the deep end also never look back.

“Are you homesick?” A frequent question I get. The short answer, no. The long, well… keep reading.

I was hesitant to write this because I don’t want people thinking I’m having a bad time or want to go home–that’s completely incorrect. My life here is still great. But I also feel a bit cold when I solemnly answer “no,” as if my life before was so mundane that I’ve already forgotten it.

So no, I’m not homesick. That’s the truth. No part of me wants to board the next plane to Minneapolis. However, I still often think of my life back home and although I’m not homesick, there are still things I miss.

It goes like this: while driving to school here I’ll think of how I’d walk to school in the fall. I’ll remember that autumn smell in the air and the sound of the leaves and I’ll think, I miss that.

Or, I’ll be at an ice cream shop and remember eating the melty top layer of ice cream from the container with my mom right after we’d brought it home from the store and I’ll think, I miss that, too.


When someone asks me about carving pumpkins, something not done here, I’ll remember my dad calling me “Pumkin,” and I’ll even miss rolling my eyes when he tells, yet again, the story with the nickname (ask him for details).

I miss the smell of my mom’s French toast cooking on a Saturday morning, chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin spice lattes, my cat’s persistent meowing. I miss sleepovers at my grandma’s, late night baking with my closest friends.

The part hard to convey in words is how these memories make me feel isn’t homesick. The only sad part about them is how I didn’t appreciate them as much as I wish I had. The sad truth is, I didn’t realize how much I loved my life until I left it. Again, this isn’t because my life here is bad, because it’s not. But when you take away what you’ve always had and surround yourself with a new world, the important parts don’t fade away, they become clearer.

I’ve never had a moment here where I thought, “Wow, I really miss those expensive shoes I bought!” or “I’m so happy I worried so much about always having perfect hair!” No, those are the parts that are fading.

I become more grateful with each memory that surfaces. Grateful for eighteen years of sleepovers at my grandma’s, for chocolate chip cookies and cool autumn breezes. For French toast, nicknames, and perfectly melty ice cream.

I’ve never wished to grow up faster. From the time my dad said I was too big for piggy backs, I wanted to be smaller again.

That’s why the day I turned from my family at the airport, there were tears in my eyes. I realized then that my life wasn’t just changing for a year, it was changing forever. I don’t get to be a kid anymore. And I’m not going to lie, that part does make me sad but the beautiful truth of missing what you had is that it means what you had is worth missing. It means you were lucky. And by God, was I ever.


I’ve had parents who’ve supported me from odd requests such as “I want to play the harp,” to “I want to go to South America.” I’ve had an extended family that made family get-togethers something I loved. I’ve had a church community that is not just my church, but my family.

I’ve had so much yet I’ve appreciated so little. While this makes me a little mad at myself, it doesn’t make me sad because, although that last paragraph is written in the past tense, I know that it’s still my present.

I have a church family that loves and supports me, even from so far away. I have the best (sometimes craziest) extended family. I have the best, supportive parents.

Coming here did not make me lose any of these things, it’s only extending my list.

I know that a year from now, I’ll miss the smell of the tea-like drink Cocido. I’ll miss seeing the skyline of Argentina across the river peeking through the morning mist each day. I’ll miss singing in the band and the sound of my sibling’s laughter.

Many say that thinking of home will only make you sad– but for me, it’s the opposite. I’m not homesick because I know I won’t take for granted the details I now know I cherish. Just because something is in your past doesn’t mean it can’t still be in your future.

Mom, even when you’re 99 I’ll buy us melty ice cream to eat together. I’ll come home from college just to get pumpkin spice lattes with you. Dad, I’ll always be your pumkin (I also still accept piggy back rides if you were wondering). And Grandma, I hope you realize I’m still planning on having sleepovers at your house.

There is no age limit to do the things you love. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity because I now see how precious each day really is. What I’ve realized is this– you can either live in moments you realize you love later, or you can love the moments that you live in now.




This guest post was written by Jackie Warehime, an 18 year old girl from Minnesota who is currently spending her exchange year in Paraguay. Want to read more from her then visit her blog  Jackie in Paraguay

Exchange Student Problems, Host Family

I changed host family 4 times, but it wasn´t all bad.

Changing host families is something that probably scares anyone going on an exchange program.

Changing family, changing place, having to re-adapt….All those annoying stuff we have to deal with.

And I think I know what I’m talking about since I’ve changed four times during my exchange year. Yes that’s quite a lot, and most of the people ask me how I did to support it and to continue my program anyway.

So let me tell you one thing: changing host family is not all bad, all dark.

My first change was probably the second worst. I was there for approximately four months when my host-sister talked to me about it. That was probably one of the hardest time I had to change because it was my first family, I was already there for four months, I had a really hard beginning in here….and they made everything they could for make me feel better, to adapt to their so different culture from mine.

So my host sister told me that her mom had health issues and that she had to go to the hospital for like more than two months and that because of that my sister would go to live at her aunt’s house. No need to say that I didn’t have the choice or that it was my fault.

So I made up my luggage, took them to school and at the end of my school day my new host family came to pick me up.

Only my new host-mother and my new host-sister were there to go home with me. I saw the difference since the beginning, my host mother that seemed to smile and joke more than my first host mother. They were so nice and seemed really happy to host me. But I didn’t feel in the right place. After the dinner I was in my room, alone, and I was crying. I wanted to go back to my first host home. I didn’t feel ready to readapt.

But I didn’t say anything and this situation lasted two days before I could really feel “at home”. I often went to walk with my host mom after dinner and talk about stuff like my boyfriend back in France and she would laugh and ask me stuff like how I met him….I really felt like I was her daughter.

The time passed, it was in winter and I didn’t have much warm clothes so gave me a really warm coat, some pullover, stuff to be warm at home because they didn’t have a heater…They even baught Christmas presents for me even though I wasn’t home the whole day (Chinese people don’t really celebrate Christmas….but they did it for me).

As you can see I really felt great in this host family. But one day that I was in my room, my host mother came in, asked my host sister to come to translate some stuff, and closed the door for speak to me. She explained to me that I had to change host family because her mother who was living with us was sick. She was afraid she wouldn’t have time to spend for me, to care of me, anymore. I started to cry, so did she. It was the first time I saw a Chinese woman cry. Chinese people are well known to hide their emotions, to “don’t lose the face”, but she did cry on the front of me, telling me how much she was sorry. She gave me presents before I left, took me to the biggest amusment park in the province and gave me a jewelry she really loved, telling me “I give it to you because I consider you as my own daughter”. I don’t think I have to tell you how sad I was to leave her. It was only less than three months that I was there but I was so close to them.

I felt really bad, I made back my luggage, went to my new home, met a new way to live. But it took me quite a while to adapt. I haven’t been close to my third host mom. She was kind of just someone who took me to her home and gave me food. I feel bad for that but it’s done. Anyway, some weeks passed and one day at school my teacher told me “Oh you’re gonna have to change family”. Just like that, I felt kind of angry to learn it that way, not because I had to change again, but because my host mother didn’t tell me for I could get ready. So my third host mom confirmed that I had to change because she would go to Germany see her son for few months.

It was my third changment but it didn’t bother me that much. All my friends were asking me how I could do that, that most of them would have gone back to their country. And at this moment I didn’t know what to tell them, I just did it.

Anyway my teachers (who were my contacts from the program) dealt really hardly with this changing host families stuff….and I ended up living at my teacher’s parent house. I can’t even tell you how weird it was to see me teacher every evening… But well, they were nice, trying to do their best, and always asking me if I had a great day, if I was hungry or stuff like that when I would get back home.


I stayed three weeks there, and I was happy to move out because even if they were really nice, I had to share my room with two relatives, I had a really small bed and didn’t have a closet. But the problem here, it was a Monday when my teacher told me “Oh, I’m sorry but you’re gonna have to find a host family, you have to move out before Sunday”. When she told me this I got really angry. I was the exchange student but I had to find my own host family within seven days? What was that? What would I do if I didn’t find anyone? But even if I was angry I had to do it, I finally found a place to live, it was actually were one of my friend were hosted aswell, her host mom agreed for take me.

So I moved out to her house, where I was supposed to stay just few weeks and then go back to my first host family.

No news came up so I started adapting myself to my new home, to my new family. And finally my program called to tell me to go back to my first host family.

I never said anything to the program about my host families issues, I never complained about anything, respected all the rules…..and they wanted me to change for the fifth time. At this point, I said no. I said that they could whatever they wanted I would rather go home, than go back where I was. It was such a hard thing for me to adapt there and then having to leave them…? I couldn’t live it twice. So after struggling a lot they finally accepted to let me where I was and they even told me I could call them if I had any trouble. So after my host mother agreed with me staying there, I spent the best of my last three months of my experience.


It’s after all of that, after all my changment that I know how I could accept to change without even complaining. And I also know how good it can be to change host family.

Changing host family, through the hard part is great because it can permit you to see more. More of the culture, of the way that people from your host country live, and you live also, in a different way. It can permit you to learn how to adapt, how to adapt to hard situations, to resolve a problem like where to live on your own.

So yeah, even if it’s hard, sad, that you don’t feel well…..changing host family is not just bad. It also gives you so much good things, and I can say that I don’t regret anything.



This guest post was written by Lucile, a French girl who spent 10 months in China. She loves arts and
traveling and hopes to help those who are going through the same things with this story.