What Is an Exchange Student?

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An exchange student is a high school- or college-aged person who travels abroad to live in a new country as part of a scholarly exchange program. While they're in this program, exchange students typically stay with a local host family and attend classes at a local school, all while immersing themselves in a brand new culture, potentially learning a new language, and experiencing the world from a different viewpoint. It's a fantastic opportunity for students.

How Old Are Exchange Students?

Exchange students are usually high school students who may live with more than one host family over the course of his/her stay. But exchange programs exist for other students, too. Many universities and colleges have agreements with other schools in different countries that allow students to live abroad while studying for a short period of time.

How Long Do Exchanges Last For? 

Exchanges can last anywhere from two weeks up to a year, depending on the program. College-aged exchange students typically spend a semester to a year abroad, but there are sometimes short-term programs that last a few weeks during summer or winter breaks.

Who Are the Host Families? 

Host families are usually everyday families who want to share their culture with foreign students. Oftentimes host families will help exchange students practice the local language, learn local customs, and explore the town, city, or even country they're living in. They also provide students with basic needs, like food and shelter.

What Are the Advantages of Being an Exchange Student?

Exchange students get to experience a new place and learn about it on a local level in a manner that's quite different from taking a vacation. These programs are more about immersion than sightseeing, though you can easily combine both!

Students placed in a country where they speak much of the language often improve their language skills greatly over the course of their program. Immersion is one of the best ways to learn a new language, so living with a host family, attending classes, and having to communicate most of the time in a different language can tremendously improve one's vocabulary. 

Exchange students also get to live like a local. Sure, you can get to know a place pretty well during a two-week holiday, but what about spending an entire year there? What about living with a local family instead of staying at a hotel? Exchange students are given fascinating insight into an unfamiliar culture on a local level.

Being an exchange student can also build confidence. Students often learn how to communicate in a new language, overcome loneliness and homesickness, make new friends, learn about the world, and maybe even discover a newfound independence.

Are There Any Disadvantages?

While each person has a different experience, the main thing students might struggle with during their program is homesickness. Exchange students move to a foreign country, away from friends and family, for potentially a long period of time. It's quite natural to feel homesick from time to time.

Culture shock is something else exchange students have to deal with while they're on their program. Depending on the country they're transferred to, it can be a mild or extreme case. Moving to a country that's similar culturally—and where you speak the language—will likely be far easier than moving to a country that has vastly different customs and different languages.

What Are Exchange Students Expected to Do? 

Exchange students are expected to maintain decent grades, abide by the rules of host families, and follow the laws of host countries. Other than that, students are free to safely explore their new home, make friends, and maybe even travel to new places with or without their host families. 

How Much Do Exchange Programs Cost?

Exchanges are facilitated by for-profit companies, charitable organizations, and high schools and universities. These programs are rarely free and can cost exchange students hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Exchange students, either through personal resources or through the entity facilitating the program, are usually expected to obtain travel insurance, spending money, and emergency funds, though this varies by program. If you are thinking of participating in an exchange program, be sure to find out the details from the organizer.

Host families are not generally compensated, although a small stipend may be offered to help them cover the costs of hosting an extra child. 

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