The 10 most important tips for a successful exchange student
(based on years of experience and tributes by former AFS students)
1. Focus on your host family
They are the ones that offer you a home. They have their reasons and expectations. They are your first and main entry to a new world. They want the best for you and will support and advice you. Try to imagine yourself in their shoes. How do you think they feel? Adapt to the rhythm of your family. Don’t miss the connection by staying in bed too long. Your host parents are your parents for the next year. Allow them to be. Also get connected to their relatives and social environment.
2. Cut contacts with home
You cannot leave one foot in your home country if you want to get the max out of your year abroad. Explain your friends why. They will still be there after 11 months. Ask your own parents to keep at distance and to let you go. Your host parents can’t go into a learning process with you with an extra set of parents in the background. Reduce Facebook and other contacts with home to a minimum. A full focus on your new world is essential and will cost enough of your energy!
3. Learn the language
Mastering a new language is a huge success factor. Take the effort to learn it. Reduce the use of your native language to an absolute minimum. Avoid the use of English as a universal language. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. People will like and respect to see you try and they will help you. Don’t stay in your room but sit with friends and family to expose yourself to the language and become part of the interaction. Trying and learning will help you make new friends much more easy.
4. Make new friends
Go to places where you meet people. Get to know them. They will help your circle of friends to grow when you meet them at other places. If you take the initiative to make contact, new chances and experiences will appear on their own. It’s good to become friends with other (AFS) exchange students, but it’s far more important to make local friends in your new country!
This means asking and telling. Be interested in people. Ask about hobbies, sports, jobs, school, holidays and so on. Also ask when you don’t understand things or about things that are different from your home country. People will like to explain and help you. All of this goes for family and friends. People will also be interested in you. In your country, in your experiences and what you think of them and their country. So tell. Also tell your host parents about your experiences and about possible problems if you face them. They will help you. Asking, telling and sharing are essential parts of the communication process.
6. Leave your comfort zone
The essence of an exchange year is to collect experiences and contacts that will benefit you all your life. If you stay in your comfort zone, you might as well have stayed at home. So accept that people and customs are different. Be eager to try new things. Not necessary that you like them, but to experience something different or because it’s a chance to meet new people. Don’t judge, just wonder!
Try to write down a few things you really would like to do or see and share these thoughts. People will help you achieve these goals. Don’t think things will happen by themselves. Realize that time flies. Don’t get short of it at the end!
8. Be aware
An exchange year comes with ups and downs. You will get into situations that are in conflict with how you are used to things. Be willing to accept and adapt. Try to overcome your problems by working on it. Talk about this with your family. They have their rules and standards. Accept them and know they really want you to have a great year, so they will help you. Tough times, once you have overcome them, will have made you grow as a person and be stronger. Know that many students experienced this before you, and many still will.
9. Remember yourself
Stay true to yourself, but don’t forget to keep an open mind. Don’t accept things as you are used to experience them but try to step back and analyse what you feel and why. Don’t accept your feelings right away as the one and only truth. Be self reflective. To know and keep analysing yourself and situations with an open mind, helps you to be aware, to grow and find unthought-of solutions and experiences.
You have gotten the opportunity to have this great experience. Make this year count. Get the most out of it. Don’t sit and wait but take initiative. Collect experiences, learn and try to enjoy every moment of it. If people see you having fun, they will more likely make contact with you. Respecting these 10 commandments will help you a lot. They are built on practical examples of many students before you. Don’t think you know better. Experience has proven you will be wrong and then you’ve lost a lot of time and the opportunity of a smooth as possible start.
This video about exploring your horizons by leaving your comfortzones. A must-see for exchange students:
And copied from a Facebook group:
- Be open to everything and everyone!
- Do as many things as possible! Idc if you think that a football game is going to be boring, just DO IT! It might end up being one of the funniest things you have ever tried! And never say no to an invitation!
- Be social! So important! If you want to make friends, be social with sports/clubs what so ever.
- Forget about who you were in your home country! Focus on who You WANNA become and work toward that!
- Talk to everybody! I don’t know if it seems so weird, just start making conversations!
- Don’t have too much contact with your home country.. You only get one year abroad! Enjoy it instead of living your old life!
- Smile and be friendly to everyone.
- APPRECIATE THE YEAR AND DON’T WASTE ANY TIME, the year really goes by too fast.
- Smile always, try to understand the differences, be open, forget about your old life, create a whole new one, gain another nationality, smile more, smile through pain. FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
- ASK questions! even if you think you know what something is, ask anyways. I thought the class keyboard was the musicinstrument keyboard, not computerstuff…
- Ask someone to tell you about all the clubs at the school. I didnt know they even existed, and nobody told me about them until it was too late.
- Be friendly, and hang out with americans, not just other exchange students.
- Don’t only try to hang out with the “cool kids”. Be with the people who wants to be with you. The ones that really care are usually not the people who were “cool”, the ones you tried to hang out with.