There are many assumptions people make about exchange students and the lives they lead, and these conjectures are made by those who have never been on a long-term exchange, those who have never met an exchange student, or those who have met an exchange student but thought they were snotty and conceited. Maybe they were snotty and conceited, or maybe they were just extremely homesick and/or had no idea what you just said. Here is a list of pros and cons to being an exchange student that I hope will a) inspire you to become an exchange student and b) gain a better understanding to the difficulties of exchange life.
-You get to travel. A lot!
-You get to learn a new language
-You get a long break from your “old life” and learn a “new life”
-You get to stay with amazing host families that bring you everywhere and feed you with vast amounts of delicious things
-Maybe the Rotary (or another organization) has sent you to a country you never even considered going to, and would never have the chance to go otherwise (a few examples: Indonesia, South Africa, Russia…)
-It’s relatively inexpensive for an entire year abroad — free room and board, free food
-Everyone thinks you’re super cool and foreign. Yes, even the French thought it was cool that I was American. Either that or they would make back-handed (and sometimes blunt) insults about my country, but hey, you gotta roll with it.
-If you’re taking a gap year, you don’t have to do well (or anything at all) in school. If you’re doing an exchange during one of your years in high school, good luck passing your classes in a different language!
-You become super tight with other exchange students near or around your town and meet people from all over the world
-You get some pretty good stories to tell all your friends and family (until they get sick and tired of all your cool stories)
-You gain huge amounts of confidence as well as worldly knowledge
-You get to be rather independent (if you’re paired with a chill host family)
-Last but not least– parties? Only all of the time.
-You have to leave everything you know and completely immerse yourself in a different culture for a year (harder than it sounds!)
-You have to leave all your family and friends behind for a year
-You might have to learn a new language from scratch (some of my exchange friends got to France knowing only how to say ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in French)
-You don’t know anyone going into your country, and have to make friends and get along with your host family in a different language
-If you have some sort of issue, you have to formulate it in a foreign language.
-Ever heard of the Exchange Student 25? It’s like the Freshman 15, but with better food.
-Your town or country might be unsafe, so the Rotary and/or your host parents don’t let you travel alone or stay in town after dark
-Sometimes host families and their exchange student don’t get along. Horror stories to come in later posts (none are mine thankfully!)
-You have to deal with the religion and social barriers of your country. For example, my French host sister went to Indonesia (a predominantly Muslim country) the same time I was in France, and she had to go to a religion course in which the teacher taught the students that women were lesser beings than men.
-You will get homesick, you will miss your friends and family, and you will miss American conveniences such as free public toilets and Spotify (no, it’s not available in Europe!)
-If you’re taking a gap year, you have to go to high school for a 5th year (worse than it sounds)
-The 4 main rules of Rotary are the 4 D’s: No drinking, no driving, no drugs, and no dating. They’re pretty relaxed on the no dating rule however (I think they just want to avoid the creation of international offspring). If you can do any or all of these in your home country, you can’t in your foreign one.
-Learning a foreign language and having it be spoken to you 24/7 is the most exhausting thing until you reach fluency. You have to be paying attention all the time or else you’ll miss something
So you see? You know that Brazilian student who seemed to be glaring at you in class? She was probably just missing her dog back at home. You should never make assumptions about how difficult something is until you experience it, and the first two months of my exchange year make up probably one of the most challenging parts of my life. But luckily, the pros always outweighed the cons for me.