Once presented with the idea, my mind was racing with reasons to be a foreign exchange student. I went to Switzerland in 2010, the summer after my freshman year of high school. I had only taken one semester of French but that did not deter my reasons to be a foreign exchange student. I had the opportunity to be an exchange student and I am so glad that I took it.
I consider my host family in Switzerland to be part of my family, as they do me. One reason to be a foreign exchange student is the ability to live with locals and see their country from their perspective. Tourists can admire the breathtaking Swiss Alps, but that’s easy because all you have to do is look at them. But by living with a host family, you learn to love the nuances of their culture.
I can remember worrying over whether or not I could get by with my limited amount of French. At a meeting of all the students traveling through my program, I met a girl who was going to Ecuador. She was nervous about her language abilities too, despite her over ten years of formal education. I was not alleviated of my fears in that moment but I recognized how vulnerable it feels to put yourself out there with no guarantee. But I knew I had to try; if i didn’t try, I never would’ve known. My trip abroad improved my French speaking abilities tremendously and allowed me to simply ask when I didn’t know a word or understand the subject, though I was surprised with how much I did know.
Natives always know the best place to go! With my host family, we vacationed together to the south of France, a common place for them. We went around Les Baux-de-Provence and I fell in love with the quaint city that sat upon the hill. But my host family couldn’t wait to show me something more beautiful, something that couldn’t be found in a guidebook. From a certain nearby mountain, you get a beautiful view of the city nestled into the mountain-side. I never would’ve found that on my own without them!
When you travel, you meet people. When you are a foreign exchange student, you connect with people. My host sister invited friends over and it was amazing just to talk with people my own age. When I met her grandmother, she was so sweet, kind, and loving. She welcomed me into her home with much warmth. You may be able to catch some of this as a tourist, but there is something special about being invited into someone else’s home that means a lot.
My month-long, foreign exchange to Switzerland was life-changing. It challenged my language abilities, tested me with acceptance of other cultures, allowed me to connect with now close friends, and grow. That was the first trip to Europe without my family. It made me independent because I had to be self-sufficient. You can learn a lot from traveling by yourself. I’d highly encourage it.
You might be worried about the expenses of being a foreign exchange student, which is understandable. There are different programs but I found one that worked. My host sister came to America for about a month before we went together to Switzerland. While living with each family, they are responsible for your food and outing costs. You simply pay for your plane ticket over and any souvenirs you want. That arrangement is with the understanding that the same would suffice when they are staying with your family.
It’s pure fun! Getting to travel to a country of your choosing, living with a host family, and becoming independent. Who wouldn’t want to go on a trip like that? I lucked out because my host sister shared the same interests as me, such as gymnastics. Sometimes that doesn’t always work out but you get a story either way.
If you are looking for way to travel, then why not consider being a foreign exchange student? There are so many reasons to go. Carpe diem, right? If you could be a foreign exchange student anywhere in the world, where would you go?
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