When studying abroad, especially while staying with a host family, there are the obvious advantages: learning a new language and making new friends. But there’s so much more to it. This experience of being a foreign exchange student and living as the locals do will serve you for the rest of your life. Here are the top 10 ways it will change your life:
1. Breaking out
The decision alone to be a foreign exchange student is HUGE! It can be frightening, exciting, worrisome, thrilling all at the same time. Just getting on that plane and taking that step into the unknown is amazing in itself, and not many people have that ability to just go and see where it takes you.
2. Experience a new way of thinking
Living with a host family will give you the opportunity of seeing everything from their eyes and it’s often different than what you learned growing up. Some examples may be: Seeing that bread is a staple in their daily lives and it comes straight from the bakery, not the grocery store. Lunch is a more important meal than dinner. It makes more sense to take public transportation than drive your own car. You need less space than you may think to live. Fresh meals are more important than frozen or pre-packaged meals. Cheese can be a dessert. School days can be extremely long and rigorous, and sports are often not important in education. After seeing another perspective, in future careers, you’ll be able to see both sides of the coin and facilitate discussions between parties.
3. Respect diversity
People are different everywhere, yet they are also the same. Until you spend some time in another country, it can be hard to understand this. Maybe you’ll feel called to continue with a career along these lines, or doing volunteer work when you return to the states.
4. Become more independent
When traveling abroad, you learn to be very independent very quickly. You learn to speak with strangers to get directions, because you can only pretend you know where you’re going for so long. You learn to read maps, in other languages. You learn that you can do whatever you put your mind to. This is HUGE!
5. Language Immersion
Yes, if you immerse yourself in another language, you will learn another language. You’ll also pick up slang words, speech patterns, sentence structure, accents, and favorite phrases of your host family. Maybe you’ll even learn to distinguish the different accents of the country depending on which region you are in. You’ll learn the language taking the bus, going to the grocery store, going to the bank, ordering a meal, telling people about where you are from, and when making new friends. And you’ll learn it all much more quickly than learning from a book or language learning podcasts. Your language skills will become remarkable and impressive.
You need to be able to adapt to anything, and without letting it fluster you. Buses will be late, trains will be late, you’ll be wearing the wrong thing, you’ll misunderstand someone about a meeting time or place, you’ll have to eat food you don’t particularly like, you’ll have to wear damp clothes because you didn’t realize they don’t use a dryer and hanging everything to dry takes longer than you thought. Make no mistake about it, this is a SKILL that a lot of people don’t have and it will serve you well in your future careers.
7. Learn more about your own culture
You may be amazed at how often people will ask you about where you came from while you are living abroad. Sometimes they may even know more than you! You may also be surprised to find that they may ask questions like the population of your state, what the transportation like, what the #1 import in your state is, what the economy and housing market are like in your state, what is your policy on immigration. You will become a walking resource for your state and country!
8.Become a local
When you’re able to spend some time in a new country and become part of the community, it will go beyond what the famous monument for that city is, or where the best restaurant is. You’ll know the shortest route from your bus to your home. You’ll know which market is the best for cheese and where to buy a pastry or flowers when you’ve been invited to dinner at someone’s house (or even that you SHOULD bring a pastry or flowers when you’ve been invited to dinner!). You’ll learn where the pharmacy is and what to do if you get sick. You’ll learn how to set up a bank account. While doing these things, you’ll also become part of the community… your community. You’ll have an understanding of the country which is much deeper than anyone who just spent a 2 days there on a bus tour.
9. Stories for a lifetime
When speaking with people who have been a foreign exchange student abroad, whether it was 5 years ago or 50 years ago, they still have stories and often they still have friends abroad whom they are still in contact with. These are stories to pass down to your children and maybe even your grandchildren.
10. Travel bug
The Travel bug is a real thing. Not real in that it’s a real bug, but that it really does exist. Once you’ve traveled abroad and learned ALL the skills above and you realize how amazing it is to discover new cultures and new places, you’ll want to keep traveling. There’s so much to see in this big world of ours, and so much to experience. You’ll no longer be satisfied with learning about a culture on the internet. You’ll long to be part of the culture and to experience it for yourself.
Enjoy the journey!