Going on a cultural exchange as a student can be an awesome adventure. Although not for the faint of heart, the experience of stepping outside of your comfort zone, even for a short period of time, can have a very positive impact on your life. If you've been considering studying abroad or going on an exchange program, here are three great reasons you should take that leap!
“Family” is a word not only applicable to the household you are born into, but also refers to people with whom you create a strong bond. That, for certain, is something you will find on your exchange year. There are 3 types of families you will find on an exchange: your host family, the exchange student community, and your school family.
First, your host family is who you will live with and surely spend the most time with. The time you spend in their house will differ per exchange program. And while it can be a bit awkward at first, as long as you treat them with love and respect like you would your own family, I guarantee you will leave that house missing your family.
Second, you have your international, or exchange student, family. Gathered from countries all over the world to experience the language and the culture of your host country, you will find yourself with friends you couldn’t have dreamed of meeting had you not left your country. Going through the same situations, culture shocks, language struggles, homesickness – they are the ones who will be your rock throughout the year, the ones who can relate to your experiences and the ones who will understand you the most.
Finally, you will have your school family: your classmates, your friends, and even your teachers! Since you will spend a lot of time in class, it is important to build good relationships with your schoolmates and teachers. There will surely be a lot of fun, interesting moments at school that will bring you closer to your classmates. This family will always hold a special place in your heart, no matter how many miles apart you will be.
Learning a New Language!
This point may seem a bit obvious because everyone knows learning a new language can be difficult. We admire those who can speak multiple languages – but that could be you as well! People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills. I could enumerate the many benefits of learning a new language, but I’m sure you already know them. All I can say is that although it will most definitely be challenging and frustrating at times, by the end of the year you will not regret having done your best.
Self Development & Cultural Awareness
This is by far what I believe to be the most important thing you can gain from studying abroad. While learning a new language and making friends from all over the world is a great benefit, the most significant thing you attain is personal growth. No one leaves their exchange completely the same as they arrived. That's a truth that all exchange students know. Some may change in their outward appearance, but almost all students experience a change in their identity – who they are as a person, their personality, their perspective on life – these things will tend to go through an evaluation on exchange. You will learn more about yourself, your country, and the world around you as you go through different challenges and face different problems. Most people grow by leaps and bounds, not only intellectually but mentally and emotionally as well. Exposure to different cultures and a different environment forces you to adapt, understand, and grow as a person. Becoming an exchange student is easily one of the best decisions I've made for myself.
Caleigh Mei Tan is a high school student from the Philippines who has studied in Japan and is currently studying in Belgium.