Foreign Exchange Students: How to Be the One to Go

Woman against chalk board on which is written "Studying Abroad?"

Joining a foreign exchange program can be an amazing experience.
Image: Shutterstock

It’s easy to find studies indicating that educational travel before the age of eighteen correlates strongly to students taking advantage of higher education and a higher adult salary. While a lot of those studies are suspect (in that they ignore the economic footing of the students involved), it’s still true that to be well-traveled is valuable.

Not as a tourist–that 14-day trip through London, Paris, and Rome your family took one summer doesn’t make you any more worldly than the average person. But travel of the sort that puts your feet on the ground, where you walk the streets and make local friends, where the local news becomes relevant to you, and the concept of “Oh, how exotic” quietly vanishes–that’s valuable.

There are many, many programs for student exchange. The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel keeps an updated list of outbound programs worth a browse. Check their website, or talk to your school’s guidance counselor. Do this early. Any organization has deadlines, limited slots, and many applicants.

Each organization will have prerequisites. Check to see if you meet them, and if you don’t, if you can fix that. Once you’ve found a destination and a program (or ideally, several) that feel like a good fit, find out the cost. There are many scholarships available for this kind of travel–another reason to begin everything early. If it still seems out of reach, private student exchange, where you and a foreign student simply trade places directly, is still possible and might be much cheaper if your family is in a situation to host.

Once you’re at the point of having been accepted into an exchange program (congratulations!), it’s not time to coast. Do your homework. Find guides written by citizens of the country to which you’ll be traveling, especially ones with tips on local etiquette. Study the language. Watch movies made there, listen to the music, get used to the sound of people speaking it. Write back and forth with your prospective host family and get to know them if you can. If that’s not an option yet, use the ubiquity of the internet to find a pen pal over there, and make a new friend. Hopefully, the first of many.

In short, this is very possible for you if you are diligent and maybe a little lucky. Be a responsible traveler, and the things you can learn from travel are endless.

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