Are you about to go abroad and become an exchange student? Let me first congratulate you. You have made one of the most important decisions in your life, that will certainly impact your personality and expand your knowledge. In this article, I will list tips for exchange students as well as my personal advice based on my previous experiences from studying abroad.

Moving abroad for study purposes is usually connected with excitement, however, many students might also fear the new experience. The exchange semester could be your first trip from home, you will need to adapt to the new environment and get out of your comfort zone. For many exchange students, this becomes a challenge that they did not expect initially.

You would be surprised how many exchange students abort they stay due to the lack of preparation and a bad mindset.

In this post, I will help you to overcome your fear and give you tips on how to make your exchange semester the best experience of your life as a student.

1. Respect the local culture

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Many exchange students will face a culture shock upon arrival. At some point, you will notice the differences between your nationality and foreign culture. You might start to judge the local traditions and put present your national culture as superior.

I would not advise doing that. You might get into conflicts with locals, which won’t make your exchange pleasant. It is important to realize your feelings and understand what it is caused by.

Each culture has different values and beliefs and you should learn to respect it. It does not mean that you need to agree however try to put yourself into the shoes of locals. They might see things differently. Have an open mind and respect their beliefs and values. Don’t express your beliefs in a form that might offend the locals. Respecting foreign cultures is one of the key takeaways that you should learn as an exchange student.

2. Forget the prejudices

Prejudgment is built through media and people who have never visited the country in the past 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.

All opinions you will hear before your exchange are relative. Everyone has a different experience and media publish often information that evokes fear.

If you will start your exchange semester with prejudices, it won’t be a good start. You will criticize everything without thinking for yourself first. Don’t base your actions on someone else’s opinions. You can consider other opinions however be critical about it and create your own.

3. Learn the local language

Another tip for exchange students is to learn the local language. It really is a no-brainer, however, you would be surprised how many exchange students avoid learning the local language.

You need to connect with the community, 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 language, you use at home.

Good advice for exchange students is to learn some basics of the foreign language in advance, in order to have a simple dialogue at least. If you plan to study in your foreign language, be confident that you can cope with it. Often it’s not that easy as it seems.
Having some kind of English certification is always a good confidence boost. Reading in English or watching English movies is also a good tip for exchange students to improve their language skills. You can also use some of the online apps like Duolingo that will help you learn few words every day.

4. Share cultural values with your host family

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Depending on the type of cultural exchange, you might be hosted by a local family. The host family often does not get any money for hosting you. The main intrinsic motivation to host exchange students is often the interest in other cultures. Make sure you are a good representative for your country and behave in a respectful manner.

Sharing your values with the host family can break the ice faster and lead to a great relationship.

One advice for exchange students is to prepare their national meals. Call your mum and ask for a recipe and cook some of your favorite national food for your host family. Cook for your host family and tell them the story behind the dish. They will appreciate it and they will be grateful for your interest in sharing some of your cultural values.
Many families value the time with each other while having dinner and talk about the day. This is a great opportunity to participate and connect with your hosts.

5. Connect with locals

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Apart from your host family you also need to connect with the local community. Making friends and participating in local sports should be on your list of experiences you want to make abroad.

Exchange students often tend to stick together as it’s more comfortable. Fellow exchange students are in the same position as you. They are usually more approachable.

Locals know that you will be there just for a limited time. Many of them won’t approach you for the exact same reason. It might be not worth talking to you since you will be gone soon anyway. This is one of the challenges many exchange students will face.

Connecting with the locals should be however your priority as at the end of the day, you want to learn the language and learn about the foreign culture. There isn’t a better way to reach this goal to connect with the community. Join music or sports clubs, go to local events, or join youth-groups.

6. Connect with other exchange students

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The easiest way to find friends at the beginning is to talk to other exchange students.

Many of the fellow exchange students will become your friends and you will be still in touch after your exchange experience.

If you make friends with students from your home country, be aware to speak the foreign language. Speaking your mother-tongue in front of locals is rude and might seclude you from the community. At the end of the day, learning a foreign language should be your priority.

7. Prepare to be an exchange student

Preparation is the key to success as an exchange student. There are many questions that you should be able to answer.

Most students participate in exchange student programs. Teenagers usually use some of the agencies that help to find a host family and a school abroad that would allow you to study there.

College students usually take part in exchange programs such as Erasmus (in Europe). In both cases, you will need to fill out many documents and provide a language certificate.

You should find out if your semester abroad will be accepted in your school at home or if you will have to take some further exams upon arrival.

If you plan to do your exchange semester overseas be sure to insure yourself properly. The life in a foreign country might be very different as from what you are used to at home. You might not be as immune against local deceases abroad. Be sure your insurance covers medical expenses. World Nomads is one of the leading insurance companies that will cover you during your stay abroad.

8. Avoid depression

One of the stages of culture shock might evoke depression. You might feel homesick which will result in calls to your home. You might spend too much time talking to your family and friends at home rather than connect with the local community.

Remember that being an exchange student is temporary. My tip for you is to enjoy your time abroad, make new friends and experiences. Don’t worry about your friends at home, they will still be there when you come back.

After all, you don’t want to regret something you haven’t done while being abroad.

9. Say Yes to exciting activities

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A great tip for exchange students is to say yes. Don’t be afraid of it. You will be invited to Christmas parties, Halloween parties, football games, field trips, dinners, birthday parties and maybe even 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. Saying yes is the key to have an amazing experience abroad.

10. Be a grateful exchange student

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Treat others as you want to be treated. Saying thank you to show your gratitude is the least you can do. Help other students or the host family with some tasks at home, support fellow exchange students and be kind to others.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to be only a good exchange student but also a good representative of your country. People will remember where you come from and connect every other mention of your country to the experience they had with you.

My 10 tips for exchange students in this post will certainly help you to improve your experience abroad. If you feel lonely, frustrated or desperate always remember why you decided to take part in the exchange. Your time abroad is limited, make the best of it!