As a former exchange student in Georgia – USA, Erasmus student in Liège – Belgium, intern in Moscow – Russia and expat in Austria I believe to have gained much experience living abroad as a student. I have seen many individuals who failed while adapting on the new environment, such opportunities are often combined with many financial resources and it would be a pity not to get the best of it. Here are my tips on how to be a good exchange student in a foreign country.
1. Respect the culture
This is the key element that decides whenever your stay will be a success or failure. People who come from different countries or continents have different values and beliefs. You should learn to respect them, you don’t need to accept it, but in order to be a good representative of your country, show some respect towards the foreign culture.
2. Forget the prejudices
Prejudgment is built through media and people who have never visited the country before and believe to know everything. Some say that Russia is dangerous, I spent four months in the biggest cities in Russia and never felt in danger. It’s all relative, everyone has a different experience and media publish only staff to evoke fear in people. The best way to experience a country is to visit it by itself and don’t read about it in some newspapers or tv.
3. Learn the local language
You need to connect with the local population, that’s the only way how you really get to know the country and the culture. If you don’t talk the language you will have some hard time to communicate because you can’t expect that everyone talks your lingo. I advise you to have practice in advance to know at least the basics. Language is also crucial for your studies abroad, so be sure to know your skills before applying.
4. Sharing is loving
If you will be hosted by a host family, they often don’t get paid to host you. You might ask yourself why would they want to host an exchange student without getting paid? The main reason is culture sharing. Many of the Americans have their roots in Europe or have some kind of connection to your country. They choose you because they are interested in you and your values, share it with them. That way you can give something back. As you might know Americans are not famous for their healthy cuisine, I often prepared meals from my home country or cooked it together with my family. This was great since we could spent some time together and as you know, food connects people.
5. Connect with locals
As shortly mentioned above, connecting with locals is another crucial point of your exchange stay. There are various methods on how to connect with local students. I started playing football for my high school team. Many Americans were interested into soccer (European football) and arranged an afterschool soccer game. You can join some clubs if you are not that much into sport. There are also religious youth groups which you can join if you want or simply talk to the people in your class.
6. Connect with another exchange students
The easiest way to find friends at the beginning is to talk to another exchange students. They are in the same situation as you and it’s much easier to start a discussion. Many of them will became your friends and you will be still in touch after your exchange experience. What you should not do is to talk to them in your mother tongue, that way you distance yourself from the others. If you want to talk your language simply stay in your home country.
7. Don’t underestimate the preparation
Preparation is a big thing. As a high-school exchange student you need to look for an organization that looks for a host family as well as the opportunity for you to study at a local high school. As an Erasmus student you need to fill out tons of papers and apply to the host University. I went to the United States with the organization English First (Vienna) which is quite popular in Europe. I have to say that I was very disappointed by their « support » during my stay. The service value for money was absolutely not adequate, nowadays price even increased for 30%, therefore I advise you to look for a decent organization. If you also know that your language skills aren’t that great do a preparation course to improve your knowledge.
8. Don’t be homesick and don’t spend too much time on the internet
There is absolutely no reason to be homesick, the time goes by very fast and you will meet all the people at home sooner than you think. Enjoy the moments abroad, make friends and experiences. The feeling when you regret something you didn’t try because you rather spent your time on the internet is horrible.
9. Say Yes
You will be invited to Christmas parties, Halloween parties, football games, field trips, dinners, birthday parties and rodeos. These events are great opportunities to meet new people, get to know new traditions, travel the country and get familiar with the local culture.
10. Be thankful, helpful, friendly and open minded
Treat others as you want to be threated. To say thank you is the least you should do. Help other students or the host family with some home duties and be friendly to others.
In the end I want to thank the Schuler family from Columbus, Georgia that showed me the American way of life 🙂
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