Prepare Before Your Arrival
Foreign exchange students often suffer from anxiety, despite their desires for a new culture and new experiences. Ease this anxiety by communicating with your host family before you arrive. Send letters, emails and instant messages, especially if a student in the family will be attending school with you. Befriending a family in advance will help the transition go more smoothly.
Brush up on your language skills. It’s important to be fluent in the host family’s language. Perhaps one of the goals of the foreign exchange program is to become fluent in the language, which doesn’t mean that you should be relaxed about your language skills before you go. Work on them every day for months before you leave. It will be easier for you to live in the country when you can openly communicate with others in the native language. Although countries around the world speak English, you still want to be respectful of the proper language for the country.
Understanding the Culture
Buy travel books about your destination country. It’s important that you understand its culture, and a lot of customs are often explained in the simplest terms in travel books. You don’t want to offend the customs of a country, and you also want to know which places to avoid that may offend your beliefs or morals. When in doubt, ask for help. Let your host family know that you may have questions that seem silly or dumb, but explain that you want to be sure not to offend anyone. If you explain that you are trying to be as sensitive as possible to the needs of the community, then they will likely respect you even more. They may also be very willing to open up and offer lots of additional helpful advice.
You want to keep a daily, detailed journal that chronicles your life and experiences as a foreign exchange student. Many schools want to receive full reports of the experiences that students have overseas. You also want to take notes of things you learn, so that you remember customs if you forget and later question how you should behave or speak in certain situations.
Take pictures as well. You want as many photographs as possible. You’ll likely treasure them the rest of your life, and you can use them to more easily teach others about the country and its people. Be sure to have a picture taken with your host family. They might be people that are important to you for the rest of your life.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions before reaching your destination country. Make sure that the host family has been investigated and that no complaints have been made against them by former students. Don’t be afraid to do your independent research on them as well. Most schools already have very thorough background checks, but feel free to ask any questions you have before your departure.
Know the laws in your host country. Don’t do anything to break the law in any way while in your host country. You will be under the rule of that country, and its court system may be very different from the one in the United States. Know the contact information for the United States embassy in your host country in case you ever have any problems.
When it comes to preparing for college as a foreign exchange student, knowing that you must come prepared is the first start. Use this list on advice for foreign exchange students as a jumping off point when exploring your new world!