Life Lessons from an Exchange Student

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

This week my family has welcomed a new addition to our household-we currently have a lovely girl from France living with us for 5 months on exchange! As my sister and I have both been on overseas exchanges, as well as having an exchange student living with us before, I have a fair bit of experience with this topic.

Going on an exchange is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I got home from my 6 months in Germany, one of my friends commented "Katie, before you went away, you never talked....and now you won't shut up!" My exchange truly changed my life-I gained so much confidence, life experience and made so many wonderful friends who I still keep in contact with almost 4 years later. My experiences have given me so many positive points to mention in job interviews as well as looking pretty impressive on a resume'....and I got so much better at German during my time away, that I graduated school two years later with an A+ in that subject!

I would recommend going on an exchange to anyone and everyone who has the chance-it is a decision you will never ever regret! For anyone who is considering or about to go on an exchange, I have put together a few tips so you can learn from some of the mistakes I made. Mistakes are a huge part of the learning curve that is a foreign exchange though, and I wouldn't have learnt the lessons I did if I hadn't made those mistakes!

So without further ado, my tips to make the most of your exchange (or life in general!):

1. Live in the moment

I was only 14 when I went on my exchange, and I'm going to use this as a bit of an excuse here...but basically the biggest regret I have from the whole experience was that I forgot to live in the moment. I spent a heck of a lot of time hiding in my room writing novel-length emails to my friends at home instead of getting out there and living!
 I also had a huge crush on a boy at home, and spent my whole exchange dreaming about him and how we would be the perfect couple once I got home. Of course, that isn't at all what happened, so I basically wasted months pining for a boy who hardly noticed I was gone. This was a very tough lesson to learn, but one that I am so grateful for now! It certainly taught me to make the most of every day and not to spend my time thinking about things that are out of my control.
However long your exchange is, I can guarantee that it will go ten times faster than you expected it to. You really do have to grab every opportunity that is offered to you!

2. Expect it to be difficult. 

You're going to get homesick. If you're having to communicate in a new language, some days it's just gonna suck and you won't be able to say exactly what you mean, no matter how hard you try. You're gonna have days when everything goes wrong and you'll wish you could just give your mum a hug. But you know what? It will be worth it. So worth it! You are embarking on a journey of self discovery, and that was never going to be easy. One of my favourite sayings is 'Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny'. Every bad day you go through has a lesson to teach you if you look hard enough, so take each lesson as it comes and use it to tackle whatever life throws at you next!

3. Take a million photos

If I'm being honest, this may actually be my biggest regret of my exchange! I did indeed take a million photos whilst on my exchange, and stored them all on a USB that I was unlucky enough to lose as soon as I got home. Just like that, I lost all of my wonderful memories from one of the most special times of my life! I was truly heartbroken, so all I can say is to take as many photos as you can and to back them up somewhere so you can't lose them like I did!

As another note on this topic-record your adventures in every way you can! Keep a diary, write a blog, save mementoes from wherever you go, whatever it takes to make sure you will keep all these memories long after the experience is over. Even the most trivial of details will be fascinating when you read them again after 5 or 10 years, when you had otherwise completely forgotten them!

4. Be patient with yourself

Whether it be learning to communicate in a new language, getting used to new cultures or making friends-all these things take time! Don't expect it all to happen at once, and try to enjoy the process of creating an entirely new life for yourself in a foreign country. Trust that by the end of your exchange, you'll be chatting with your friends as if you've known them forever and feeling like a local in your new home.

5. Communicate with your host family

This is something that truly didn't occur to me while I was away (being somewhat self absorbed as most 14 year olds can be??), but I have learnt since having our own exchange students. It is a great amount of responsibility for your host parents looking after you for such a long period of time, and they will worry about your safety and happiness a lot. If you come home and shut yourself in your room, they will be outside wondering if you are ok or if you're having a hard time. You can ease a lot of this by simply being open and spending plenty of time with your host family, letting them know how you're coping on both your good and bad days. They will truly appreciate this a lot and it will make the experience a lot easier for both them and you.

I hope my tips have helped any future exchange students out there, if you have any questions please don't hesitate to comment and ask!
Kate x

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