What can be the reasons to take the risk and go on the adventure of living in another country for a year? This post should help to determine if the advantages apply to somebody and if they are worth the time and money.
Regardless if while in high school, after it, or even in the higher age, there are many opportunities to take a time-out and start a new life in a different country. Many organizations worldwide offer the adventure called “exchange year”, but what they really mean is to go to a different country and stay there in a school for a year while living with a host family or a dorm. There are thousands of reasons why some people start this adventure. Everyone has his very own reason for it and especially older students might spend more time considering this decision. On the other hand, regardless of the age, there are many reasons to study abroad. The reasons someone chooses to study abroad could include: To learn a new language, getting know a completely new culture, learning in the school, making new friends, the political statement, and the possible (negative and positive) career influence of this year.
Changing countries means most the time also to learning a new language or even alphabet. While there are many ways to learn a new language, none of them are that absolute as to live in another country. While a language school in the students own country can train perfect grammar and a short holiday in another country can establish the first words, only studying or living in another country makes it possible to experience the language, hear it all day, and adopt the local accent. But even living in another country, the success does not just come along; the student needs to push himself to use the language all day. It’s also important to really dive into the language: change the language of the electronic devices, write notes in it and try to think in the desired language. While learning a new language is often hard enough, there are students who are looking for an even tougher challenge: to learn a completely new alphabet too! This privilege is reserved for students who travel to countries in Asia or Russia and especially the Chinese and Japanese alphabet with his over 3000 signs, which makes learning these languages most difficult for western people.
For some students, probably the most important reason to study or live in another country is a different culture. While everyone can agree that the culture in Europe and Asia is completely different, many people would be surprised by the differences between a country in Europe and the US. Therefore, it’s always important for the student to prepare himself for the new country and their culture. How a student experiences that culture will depend on which program a student chooses. While every organization may have some differences, they all can be split into four different categories: study at a language school, study at a college/high school and live with a host family, study at a college/high school and live in a dorm, or do a “real” exchange. While studying in a language school may improve the language the most, the experience is different from studying at a local college or high school. Normally, these students have more international friends and experience their culture more than the culture of the host country. Studying at a local college or high school meanwhile means learning new things and trying to learn a new language at the same time. Most colleges or high schools are not designed for international students and can therefore not offer extended language classes to improve grammar and prepare the students for an international language test. But the students have at this establishment the unique opportunity to experience the host country’s culture first hand. Students who live in a host family have an even deeper insight into the culture and will be faced with the language 24 hours a day (a huge challenge especially for the brain). The last option is very similar to the one before and has not a huge impact on the student himself, it’s more the program that differs. A “real” exchange program means, like the name would suggest it, for the family not only send a teenager in a country but also to welcome a student from the other country at their home. Currently, only one organization offers this kind of program. While some pieces of the new culture will be inspiring or surprising, others will shock the student at the first time. It’s therefore important for them to recognize the foreign culture as a part of their year, even if they can’t imagine it first.
Continue their education
As mentioned before, some program offers the opportunity to study at a local college or high school. In these kinds of a program, the student can continue his education from his original country or expand his knowledge with some new classes. Depending on the age of the student, a college may offer the chance to learn something completely different and expand the student’s mindset. Students who are looking for a challenge can try to use their year in the foreign high school to continue their education. If they succeed they don’t “lose” a year back in their home high school and can therefore stay in their old class. These students may understand the foreign students even better because they will have the same amount of homework and the same pressure as the students from the host country. But normally a year at a foreign high school is just used to expand the knowledge of the foreign country.
New life / New opportunities
Another reason for go on this adventure is the possibility to literally start a new life. Exchange is not a year in your life, it’s a life in one year, is a common motto that captures this very well. A new start means the unique opportunity to be another person because nobody knows the international student and everyone will see them for the very first time. It also allows them to meet new people who might become their new friends for a life time. Even though it can be tough at the first time and not everybody is the type of person to accomplish this challenge, those who succeed may live the very best moments of their life at this moment.
Not everyone will think this way in the first place, but going out into the world and especially sharing their culture with someone from another part of the world and accepting their culture, is also a way of making a political statement. In general, people who are participating in an exchange program are more open to new cultures and accept them in their home country too. They are more open to new people and learn not to judge people based on appearance, race, or language. Also, being a part of an international world with fewer boundaries to travel from one country to another means sometimes being against the development of some countries.
The last reason why someone might consider studying abroad are the possible career effects. A successful international student (independently from their age) will learn to be more self-confident, to organize them better and to speak and act in another culture. Also, the improved language skills can help them in their future career. Unfortunately, there is also a negative side effect to be considered, especially if the students want gain prestige and have a well-paid job. If so, an exchange year can look like wasting a year because to learn a language someone doesn’t need to leave their country.
There are many reasons why leaving his own country and spreading his wings can be the most exciting and most interesting adventure: Learning a new language, getting know a new culture, making new friends, learning something in the other school, the political statement or the possible (positive and negative) career influence. For me, starting this adventure was the best decision in my life so far and I’m feeling honored to be a part of this. It’s a one-time opportunity to be really a part of another culture and starting a second life. I hope many students will follow me and take the risk.