Before you prepare to study abroad as an exchange student, you need to meet some pretty high qualifications that include age, academic grades, financial support and community sponsorship in order to apply. It’s tough to qualify for a long term international student exchange program but it is no doubt the best way to get out there and see what it is like to live in another country. I don’t need to walk you through how to fill out an application, your exchange program will help you make preparations but what I will tell you are a few things student exchange programs don’t tell you and what precautions you can take to help you prepare for selecting a foreign exchange program and host family.
Not all student exchange programs are alike. Some programs are accredited government sponsored programs while others are non-profit services. Accredited programs are programs that meet the academic requirements needed in order for the courses to remain as valid academic course(s) on your school record. Non-profit exchange programs are suitable for short term or summer exchange camps. They may or may not meet the academic requirements and if they do not, your studies will not be counted as completed courses.
Evaluate the fees involved between exchange program services. Some programs are similar but do not include the extra help you need in getting prepared to study abroad. If you go abroad there is a lot of paperwork to do. Preparing a student visa, a round trip plane ticket, and health insurance all cost money and some of these services are included in some program fees, while others ask you to cover it on your own.
Take into consideration that you will be staying with a host and sharing living space in a totally new culture. Be sure the program offers you additional support or a replacement host should things go wrong. Even though host families are carefully evaluated by most organizations, there is no guarantee they will offer the proper conditions or environment to study in. It is not unusual that a conflict could arise such as differences in religious beliefs or lack of transportation. While some host may be very helpful during your stay others may leave you on your own to provide for yourself. A good student program will allow you to stay with a new host should things not turn out as planned.
Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask your host family and make contact with them before you make a final decision. There are some foreign exchange programs such as Best Student Exchange that let you choose your host family. This is a great option because you get the chance to communicate with them ask them questions before you make your decision. If this is not the case, here are some basic questions to ask your student exchange hosting family.
- Do you have children and how many?
- How do I get to school everyday? How far is it?
- Are there any food restrictions or diets I should know about?
- Does your family go to church and must I attend?
- Are there pets in the home?
- Are there sports, or entertainment activities near by?
- What are the sleeping arrangements in the house?
One of the down sides of the foreign exchange student programs can come from the high demand of student applications and shortages in volunteers. The shortage of exchange volunteers who organize the programs. Sometimes shortages can be the main cause for exchange programs to sidestep proper screening of host personal details and qualifications. Unfortunately some overlooked details may create uncomfortable results for students for example; the host may be very kind and willing to host a student, but not actually financially able to have an extra body in the home. Exchange programs can also have limited procedures for interviewing and screening all host before they are approved. What they don’t tell you about screening is that the screening interview took place on the phone. That means that sometimes the student exchange service did not actually meet the host face to face which leads to almost no proper personality or the character evaluation. Host families can be very religious or have strict diets amongst many other things. If you have an objection to religious households or living under strict behavior, tell your student exchange program adviser upfront before you leave. Hosts are volunteers and are not paid for their services. It is even helpful to look for approval ratings and recommendations from other students and families that have used the exchange service you would like to work with.
Remain flexible and go along with your host as much as possible. It’s ok to say you do not like chili peppers but do give other non harmful things a try before you say no. Be flexible when strange events happen like, showering in the evenings instead of the mornings or if the host has a habit of waking up at strange hours. Just remember it is only temporary the more flexible you are the better things will go. The more prepared you are going abroad as a foreign exchange student, the better it will be to meet new friends, enjoy living with your host and have an experience that will last a life time.