2020 has been different from any other year we can remember. From toilet paper shortages to murder hornets to COVID-19 and social distancing--everything has changed--including the way exchange students will experience their exchange year! In many areas, schools are closed and getting together with friends is limited. Many are wondering: how do students adapt, make friends and have a full exchange program during this exceptional year?
Here are six things exchange students can do to help make their exchange the incredible experience they hoped and dreamed of:
1. Make the most of family time.
We are all spending a lot of time at home these days, with a lot of “togetherness”. Being new in the family can feel a bit awkward for an exchange student, and having to stay home so much can be overwhelming. On the other hand, it can be a great opportunity to overcome those awkward feelings by using this time to build strong positive relationships with your host family. Be intentional about using this time to do things together that will help you get to know each other and bond. Whether it’s taking a quick trip, playing games together, streaming movies or just hanging around the dinner table enjoying conversation, gathering as a family and talking together will help develop a strong family relationship that includes every member of the family.
2. Be open to whatever comes.
We say this all the time, but this year it seems particularly important to say again: Expect to have a great year, but resist having too many expectations and demands. This year has been surprising already, and since no one really knows what to anticipate, being open to accepting whatever comes, and committed to having a positive outlook is the best recipe for success. In our experience, the happiest exchange students--and host families--are those who are open to going with the flow and making the most of the opportunities that arise. This helps you avoid disappointment, and helps you identify and enjoy what comes your way.
3. Take every opportunity to meet new people.
Opportunities for meeting new people are still out there--they just look a bit different than they have in the past. In normal years, we suggest joining a club or participating in a sport. The advice is still the same this year if that’s possible in your area.
Some high schools are offering sports, especially those which can be played with “social distance” guidelines in place. Check with your school and find out what is available. It might not be the sport you thought you’d play, but it is an opportunity to be active and meet new friends right away.
Many schools are moving club meetings and other activities to social media platforms. Join in, meet people and make friends. Be proactive about reaching out to others to introduce yourself and start conversation. Ask people questions about themselves, your host community, and American culture.
As things begin to open up and you can meet in person, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident meeting up face-to-face if you’ve already made some friendships online.
4. Discover your host community.
There are interesting things to do in every community. Nature walks, state parks, day-hikes, many museums, and historic sites are open. Do some online research to find out what there is to do in your area. Ask your host family to share their favorite spots with you, and consider exploring some new places together. This can help you bond with your host family, have some fun, and probably learn something new.
5. Take up a new hobby.
Exchange is all about new experiences, so avoid worrying about what you can’t do, and instead, dive into activities and hobbies that are available. Invite your host family to play board games, do a puzzle, or solve an online mystery. Get creative and learn to cook, sew, or build. Join your host family in their hobbies, home projects, and day-to-day tasks. There’s no end to what you can learn, and you just might find your life’s passion as you try new things.
6. Involve your Local Coordinator.
Your Local Coordinator is your best local support, and they will be able to share ideas about getting involved in your specific area. They’ll have an orientation soon after your arrival, providing an opportunity for you to meet the other exchange students in the area, broadening everyone’s friendships and support base. After all, we are all in this together.
Exchange years are made of unexpected moments full of joy and surprise, even during years that feel normal. Like in any adventure, a positive attitude is the foundation of success. This is your year of adventure- don’t waste a moment. Your exchange year will be what you make of it. Maybe this year is not so different after all.