Every exchange student hopes to have an awesome exchange experience, including a great relationship with the host family, lots of new friends, and many fun memories. Most students also hope to perfect their English and become more mature and independent. Students step off the plane with high hopes, big dreams, and lots of enthusiasm. Some students go on to have the exchange they dreamed about while others continually struggle. It’s true that exchange can be challenging, but the good news is this: the kind of experience you have will depend mostly on YOU.
Your attitude is the single most important factor in the type of exchange you will have. An optimistic, enthusiastic attitude will help make your exchange the very best it can be. Choosing to be positive will help you enjoy opportunities that come your way, and showing excitement and enthusiasm will motivate your American family and friends to provide you with even more opportunities and experiences.
In contrast, a negative attitude will make every part of your exchange harder. Focusing on what you don’t like about your host family or community will prevent you from noticing and enjoying the good things about your placement. Most people avoid spending time with others who are critical or pessimistic, so a negative attitude will also make it harder to make friends.
Getting involved in your host school and community will benefit you in so many ways. You may be able to remain active in hobbies you pursued at home, but even if you can’t, there are many different ways to get involved in your host community. Consider joining a club, sports team, or band at your school. Adopt the American spirit of volunteerism and engage in service projects in your community. Participate in your host family’s church or youth group. Take a class to learn a new skill, hobby, or language. This is your opportunity to try new things, have new experiences, and discover what Americans are passionate about.
Staying busy is also a great way to make friends, and it will also help reduce homesickness and culture shock. If you’re not sure what’s available, ask your host family, classmates or teachers, and then jump in with both feet!
Many exchange students learn--the hard way--the importance of limiting contact with home. During your exchange, there will undoubtedly be times you miss your family and friends at home and even feel some homesickness. We live in an age in which communication is instant regardless of the distance, so it may be tempting to simply pull out your phone to send them a message or talk with them. While this may help you feel better temporarily, having too much contact with home will cause problems long-term.
There’s no doubt that you need a support structure as you go through your exchange, but that support needs to be here. Depending on people who are thousands of miles away for your day-to-day support will eventually cause you to miss them even more. It’s critical that you invest time and energy into developing a strong, supportive relationship with your host family and that you pursue building good friendships in your school and host community. Your sad or homesick moments are actually a wonderful opportunity to deepen relationships here as you reach out for support and invite people to share your life.
You’ll notice that your host family, Local Coordinator, school, and city occupy rather small slices of the pie chart. All of us at ICES hope you have an awesome host family, a super-supportive coordinator, a top-notch school, and a city you love during your exchange. However, even if one or more of these don’t completely meet your dreams or expectations, you can still have an amazing exchange if you take responsibility for doing all that YOU can do to make it great.
Your exchange will be filled with choices, and the sum of those choices is the result of your exchange. Remember to make choices that lead to the experience you want. They may not be the easiest choices of the moment, but they will have the best end result! ICES is always here to help and support you as you put in the work and effort to have the experience of a lifetime!