New language. New customs. New foods. New family. New school. New rules. New friends. The list of things an exchange student has to adapt to is long, and making the adjustment is not always easy. Shortly after arriving to their host families, students meet with their Local Coordinator for a required orientation to prepare them for a successful, rewarding exchange experience. The orientation covers a variety of topics and is designed to help students successfully integrate into their host family and school and to overcome challenges that most exchange students face.
The student’s relationship with their host family is the most important one they will have during their exchange. At orientation, students discuss some of the most common aspects of American family life, including common American views on pets, household rules, chores, curfews, and church attendance. Students are taught how to integrate into their host family and what to do if they face challenges or problems.
School life is another important aspect of the exchange year. Many exchange students find school in the U.S. to be drastically different from school in their home country. The ability to choose elective courses and have each class in a different room with a different group of students is a new experience. Local Coordinators help their students understand the expectations and requirements of their American school, and provide tips on participating in sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities to make friends and experience all their American school has to offer.
A month or two into the exchange, most exchange students experience feelings of disorientation, frustration or sadness resulting from trying to adapt to an unfamiliar and very different way of life. This is known as culture shock and is the greatest challenge most students face while on exchange. During orientation, coordinators teach students what culture shock is, how it might feel, and what they can do to prepare for it and get through it more quickly.
The orientation also provides practical information that will help students navigate their day-to-day life in the U.S. This includes things like budgeting, getting money from home, and filing insurance claims after receiving medical care. The Local Coordinator will review ICES program rules and answer any questions the students may have in this area.
ICES’s top priority is the safety and well-being of our students. At orientation, students are given tips to stay safe in their host community as well as online, and they’re taught how to get help if they ever feel unsafe.
The orientation also serves as a great opportunity for students to become better acquainted with their Local Coordinator and other ICES students in the area. Many coordinators combine the student orientation with a fun activity or outing.
As we head into the coming months, we anticipate stories about all the learning, growing, sharing, and memories out students will gain as they engage in their host families, schools, and communities. Looking forward to a great year!