Although many exchange students have grand aspirations of being placed in bustling cities like New York or Los Angeles, it's important to remember that a significant portion are actually placed in small towns and rural areas across the United States. How do they feel about this? Can they still have a good experience?
We asked our students to weigh in with their opinions, and we got a tremendous response.
Student after student touted the benefits and advantages of being placed in a small area. Here's what they love about small town America:
Nele from Germany says of her year in Kansas, "Even though in the beginning it was a little shock to me to live in such a small town in the middle of nowhere, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I loved that I basically knew every single one in my town but also that everybody knew me. That helped me a lot in making friends and adjusting. Also I got really close to my teachers and coaches which is why I was able to do things like go to State Track as a manager or walk the graduation stage even though I was only a junior. I’d always choose being in a small town again since it gave me a lot more opportunities than I thought it would."
Lucia from Spain agrees: "You have a lot of opportunities of trying new things such as sports or other activities, the schools tend to be less competitive and more laid back!"
It's Easier to Make Friends
Fierro from Italy explains, "Attending a small school is definitely an advantage because you get to know everybody and make more friends, which are the best part of an exchange year program!"
Ruth from Germany seconds that thought: "It is so much easier to get to know people, since everyone probably already knows that you are coming and you are not being swallowed by the crowd."
You Get to Know Everyone
Juan Jose from Colombia truly enjoyed his experience in Belpre, Ohio. He says, "Being placed in a quiet, small town allowed me to thoroughly connect with a new culture and meet so many people from different walks of life. I loved being able to get to know everyone on a personal level in my school."
Lidia from Spain had a similar experience. "The thing I liked the most about being in a small town and a small school, was the close relationship I had with everybody, because of being small everyone knew each other, and it was such a familiar environment."
I Didn't Feel Lost
"I loved living in a small town and going to a small high school," says Ava from France. "I didn’t feel lost and it really felt like a new welcoming home, especially in the South where people are so nice."
Aina from Spain adds, "What I liked about being in a small town was that everywhere I went I knew someone, people in small towns are very nice and kind. In my town there were a lot of activities for people to participate in."
It's Easy to Get Involved
Irene from Spain shares her feelings about her year in Polo, Missouri. "I was so lucky being in a tiny town because it is really easy to get involved in the activities, to play sports and to get to know everybody very well and you make lots of friends."
Noa from Spain echoed these feelings. "My school was really small and at first it wasn't what I expected but it ended up being awesome. I was able to participate in everything as a senior, everyone knew me and I ended up being an unforgettable part of the school and the community as they were for me."
You Can Play Sports
Joining a sports team is a great way to make friends. However, in larger schools it's often not an option.
Living in Tecumseh, Nebraska opened up doors for Lucie from France. "I loved being in a small town because it allowed me to know most of the people from my school, which made me feel at home pretty quickly. I also had the opportunity to try every sport and club I wanted to, even if I had never played those sports or done those activities before."
Alejandra from Spain experienced the same dynamic in Michigan. "I think going to a small town with a small school is the best option , you get to live everything so much better, the people know you since day 1, you get to actually play sports, do friends and be able to hangout with everybody…."
Great for Shy Students
For Tanit from Spain, being placed in Edenton, North Carolina had some big advantages. "It was a big change for me since my home town is big. I like it because everyone knows each other and it's easier to socialize with people in school, especially if you're a shy person like me."
Giulia from Italy experienced the same benefit in her small Florida school. "At first it's been quite difficult to settle in mostly because of my shyness, but after a while I got to know literally EVERY student and they quickly became like a second family for me to which I still keep in contact."
People Were Really Interested in Me
Robert from Germany explains why he loved Vienna, Ohio. "I really enjoyed the size of the town, because it really helped me to get to know everyone in a short time. The people there were really interested in me because I was someone new, that they haven’t seen before and sort of different to what they were used to. "
Being placed in North Carolina brought the same advantage to Julia from Spain. "Going to a small High School makes knowing everyone a lot easier and they also are not used to exchange students, they are more curious to know about you and your home country."
The Only Exchange Student in My School
Adriano from Germany loved his placement in Rehobeth, Alabama. "I was there the only exchange student which was actually pretty cool, and I made really fast a ton of friends. I was able to swim for the Rehobeth swim team and I went to the sectional finals. I'm just so grateful that I got this opportunity that I probably wouldn't have gotten at a big school."
Opportunity to Stand Out
Irene from Spain shares her experience in Missouri. "What I liked most about living in a very, very small school district was, apart from being generously accepted to play in any sport, or the kindness with which they treated me, or the walks in the woods,... that everybody got to know you, and that you got to know everybody. Besides, if you stood out in sports or music, local radio stations would interview you and broadcast it, as well as in some newspapers, truly something that in our home countries was likely to never happen, and something that made my experience even more unforgettable."
Being placed in a small town in Wisconsin provided similar benefits to Rath from Cambodia. "What I liked about living in a small town and going to a small school is the opportunity to stand out and represent my culture well, while also being able to make friends super easily, since everybody knows everybody and everybody is friendly with everybody. "
Nele from Germany discovered real community in St. Johns, Michigan. "In the beginning I was a little bit scared to move to a small town especially since i’m originally from a city but I ended up loving it there and couldn’t have imagined a better place for me to spent my exchange year at. The town really embodied the feeling of community and family, everyone would come and support the school at given events. It was amazing to see everyone supporting each other including the local stores who sponsored events and had special offers for the students of the town."
Štěpánka from the Czech Republic found the same to be true living in Oologah, Oklahoma. "The thing I liked the most about a small city is that we all knew each other and everyone was down to help."
And small-town Colorado brought life lessons to Matilde from Denmark. "I loved living in a small town, because everyone knew each other and the whole town would show up at the high school when there were basketball games or for prom and graduation, even people who didnt have any kids at the school. I also think it was a great experience because it was a completely different view of american life than what is seen on tv, where you typically see big american neighborhoods with wealthy houses. This small town community really made me realize how important it is to help out in your town, be there when stuff happens and help out whenever you can. It is always appreciated and my host town really showed that."
So Much Support
Elisabetta from Italy loved the supportive community of Lawson, Missouri. "The best part of living in a small town was the sense of community and solidarity. Teachers, adults, students always tried to help me every time I had to face a challenge."
I Truly Belonged
Clara from France felt like a true member of Mankato, Kansas. "I loved living in a small town for a year! I knew everybody and everybody knew me. It was easier to make friends, to get into a sports team, and by the end of the school year I felt like I truly belonged to the community!"
Bozeman, Montana become a second home to Christopher from Germany. "I am more than happy that I ended up in this town because it felt like I could really be a part of a special community and really play a role in it! "
Small Town Traditions
Julia from Germany enjoyed experiencing the traditions in Canton, North Carolina. "I liked living in a small town because you got to know meaningful traditions that held the whole town together. The connection with people is so much stronger!"
David from Germany got a taste of small-town hospitality in Richland, Wisconsin. "The sense of community in my school and the whole town was great. The hospitality everybody showed me there is hard to match in Germany."
Mila from Germany relished the beauty of Wilmot, Wisconsin. "I really enjoyed living in a small town because there is so much more nature and you know almost everyone in your neighborhood."
Christian from Italy shared similar feelings about his placement in Michigan. "I liked to live in a small town because there were a lot of lakes and we used to fish there."
And Pablo from Spain said this of his time in Virginia. "In small towns you get to be so calm and in a lot of cases, in touch with the nature. People is nice and easy going, I’ve met some amazing people there that changed my life for the better."
Real American Experience
Perhaps Valentina from Italy summed it up best when she shared her feelings about living in Pike County, Georgia. "Living in a small town is making you live the real American experience and I loved it. Pike county and Pike County HS are gonna be FOREVER in my heart."
Whether you live in a small town, a big city, or something in between, an exchange student would love to experience your "real America".
Consider becoming a host family for a student arriving this fall! Host families may be married or single, with or without kids.
The experience of a lifetime is waiting for you!