Foreign Exchange Students – What is Involved?

Are you interested in spending time abroad as an exchange student? Would you like to embark on this exciting adventure, but are not sure what it really involves?

Living abroad as a foreign exchange student is one the most enriching and rewarding experiences you might imagine. Not only does it open your mind and grow you as an individual, but the thrill and fascination of observing another culture firsthand, is unmeasurable.

What is a Foreign Exchange Student?

General Information

A foreign exchange student is someone in high school or college who moves abroad temporarily through an exchange program. While part of the program, the foreign exchange student stays with a local host family, goes to classes at a school or university, and may even learn the country’s language.

Host families are ordinary families living in your chosen city that will offer you room and board for the duration of your stay. An exchange student must achieve good grades, live according to the house rules of the host family, and honor the laws and customs of the country. In return, you will have the freedom to experience and explore your new home city and country, meet new people, and potentially travel to surrounding cities or countries during your time abroad.

Exchange programs are typically run by companies, charities, and schools. It can cost up to $5000 to enroll in a foreign exchange program and spend a year living abroad. Host families rarely receive payment for hosting a student. Rather, they are looking to experience meeting someone from a new country, share their culture, and open their world to new possibilities. A few programs offer a small allowance to host families to cover the additional costs incurred by adding a new member to their household.

The experience is designed to offer cultural immersion, allowing the exchange student to observe the day-to-day machinations of life in a foreign place with new eyes. Becoming a foreign exchange student is an enlightening experience that will grow you as never before and instill a deeper understanding of the world around you.

Age Parameters

A foreign exchange student is typically high school age and could stay with the host family for as long as a year. Some programs, however, are as short as a few weeks. Some exchange students stay with multiple host families during their time abroad while others live with one family for the duration of the program.

However, there are a number of foreign exchange programs for older students. A considerable number of universities have study agreements with other countries which allows you to live abroad for a year and enroll at a foreign university. Most of these programs place college students in Western Europe, but there are opportunities in other parts of the world as well.

Reasons to Become a Foreign Exchange Student

Become a World Traveler

One of the main reasons anyone becomes a foreign exchange student is to fuel their wanderlust and travel the world. This may sound cliche, but becoming an exchange student allows you to do just that. You will witness, first-hand, the culture and customs of another country, drink in the sights and architecture, and eat the local food.

As a foreign exchange student, you will have the chance to see new topography and geographic sites, enjoy fascinating museums, and visit historical landmarks. One of the best parts of being a foreign exchange student is the fact that travel to nearby countries is at your fingertips. For instance, if you become an exchange student in Western Europe, a plethora of countries and cultures are only a short plane ride away. In being so close to these neighboring countries, you will see far more than you might think at a considerably lower cost than if you were visiting from your home country.

Experience Another Culture

Observing another culture, including the associated norms and traditions, is one of the most rewarding aspects of becoming a foreign exchange student. You can read about these things in books or watch a documentary, but nothing beats the ability to witness them with a bird’s-eye view.

You will be delightfully overwhelmed with new sounds, smells, foods, and people, ensconced in centuries-old traditions and social customs deeply embedded in the country’s unique culture.

Impressive Education and Career Options

If you are looking to expand your educational opportunities, there is no better way to do this than as a foreign exchange student. For example, if you are in college, you will glean far more experience and knowledge from your major by achieving part of it in a foreign country.

The difference in professors, classroom approaches, and concepts taught will enrich your learning experience and give you a broader view of your chosen course of study. You will gain a far greater understanding of your fellow man and the world around you and be learning with students from all over the globe.

Once you graduate from college, you will find that employers look favorably on individuals who took part in exchange programs. This shows you are well educated, highly adaptable, open, and potentially bi-lingual. All of these qualities will boost your employability considerably.

Language Development 

If it interests you to learn another language, there is no better way to do it than by complete immersion as a foreign exchange student. All the classroom practice and writing exercises in the world still do not offer you the same experience as studying a language in its native land does. While studying abroad, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice your language skills with your host family, locals, and fellow students alike.

Personal Growth

In studying abroad as a foreign exchange student, inevitably, you will grow and stretch yourself as an individual. You may find talents and interests you never knew you had as you take part in exciting activities popular in your host country. You will enjoy different music, theater, and films, opening your mind to new styles and types of recreational activities.

You will experience an independent and open mind as never before. Your curiosity and interest in other people and cultures will be piqued. You may find yourself chatting animatedly with the local grocer or introducing yourself to a new friend at your favorite coffee shop. You will be forming connections that will leave an indelible impression on you for life. Plus, you will have amazing stories to share for years to come.

Incredible Friendships

Becoming a foreign exchange student will allow you to form lasting friendships with individuals from all over the world. Often, the connections you make while abroad will be some of the deepest of your life, lasting many years after your exchange has concluded.

Dos and Don’ts of Staying With a Host Family

Do Communicate

There are some fundamental dos and don’ts to remember when studying abroad as a foreign exchange student that will ease your life greatly and help you enjoy your experience in full. When you are applying to an exchange program, be sure to communicate any needs you have relevant to your host family placement.

If you have certain types of allergies or dietary restrictions, for example, include these on your application. The more information you provide to the exchange organization, the better your match with your host family will be.

Maintaining open lines of communication with your exchange program is also important in the event that your host family is not an ideal match. If you continuously experience issues or frustrations with your host family, the organization can help to resolve these differences or move you to another home if necessary. Alternatively, if you love your host family, let the exchange program know, so they will continue to match students with them.

Do Socialize 

Be sure to socialize with your host family while living abroad as a foreign exchange student. Most exchange programs include your meals, offering an excellent opportunity to get to know your host family while enjoying delectable local dishes.

Do Show Your Appreciation 

One of the best ways to break the ice and endear yourself to your host family from the start is by bringing a gift for them upon arrival. Bring something unique to your home country and try to customize it to the family you will stay with. The host family is opening their home to a complete stranger, so offering a token of your appreciation for their hospitality to open the initial bond of friendship is invaluable.

Do Honor Cultural Differences

Depending on where you live as a foreign exchange student, you might experience some significant cultural differences and diverging norms. Read up on the customs and expectations of your host country before departing, making sure to adhere to any dress code obligations.

Respect the differences in religion and culture even if they differ vastly from your personally held beliefs. Adjust your habits and approach if necessary and you will make the most out of your stay abroad.  

Do Not Make a Mess

This may seem like an obvious point, but it bears touching upon. As a foreign exchange student staying with your host family, be sure to keep the areas of the house you manage organized and tidy at all times. Do not leave clothes all over your bedroom or let the trash bin overflow.

Treat the host home as if it were your own, with care and consideration. If you feel it is appropriate, make the extra effort to cook your host family a meal, do chores, or grab their groceries. This will go a long way in endearing yourself to your host family and speak volumes for your respect of the time and effort they are making to host you.

Do Not Be Overly Demanding

Along the same lines, avoid being overly demanding of your host family, complaining about small or unnecessary things like not being able to find your favorite snack or disliking a particular meal. Depending on the country you are studying in, the normal quality of life may differ considerably from that of your home country. Learn to discern between situations that warrant speaking up and those in which it would be rude to demand more.

Do Not Forget to Stand Up for Yourself 

With that being said, there may be an occasion where you must stand up for yourself. Most host families are kind and considerate, and may well become lifelong friends. On rare occasions, however, hosts do not put in the effort to make your experience a pleasant one and may be very difficult. In the event this were to happen, say something. Try to keep the lines of communication open and resolve the issue in a mature manner.

If the situation is bad enough, you may need to speak to your exchange program to see if they can transition you to a different host home. Even if you leave on less than positive terms, always remain respectful and polite when speaking with your host family.

Do Not Avoid Conversation

One of the most intimidating things about moving to the foreign country is the inability to communicate easily with the people around you due to the obvious language barrier. While it may be easier initially to remain silent rather than practicing the language and making mistakes, this will inhibit your ability to connect with your host family and others around you.

Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Your host family will probably appreciate the efforts you are making to learn their language and help you out rather than judging you for your mistakes.

Do Not Become a Hermit

While your host family may be incredible, you want to be sure to explore outside the house and make new friends when living abroad as a foreign exchange student. Try to find a balance between downtime with your host family and socializing with new people. A combination of the two will enhance your time abroad considerably.

Do Not Forget to Express Your Thanks

Finally, when your fantastic experience as a foreign exchange student has ended, do not forget to express your thanks to your host family for all they have done. Letting a complete stranger into your home to live for up to a year is no small feat.

Your host family will have shared their lives, experiences, food, and culture with you, giving you an invaluable gift you will carry with you always. Take the time to let them know you appreciate their efforts. Write a note or give your hosts a small gift to say thank you. If you developed a close relationship during your stay, keep in touch. There is nothing so wonderful as having a second family in a foreign land that suddenly does not seem foreign anymore.


Moving abroad as a foreign exchange student will open your mind and heart to the endless possibilities the world has to offer. Your time living abroad will awaken a sense of adventure and fierce independence you might not have known you possessed.

While it may be scary to take the leap at first to become an exchange student, when your time abroad has finally come to a close, you will treasure immensely the memories of the people you met, the experiences you had, and the places you have seen. In short, your life will be changed forever. 

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Picking Your Host Family | The Ultimate Guide

If you’re planning to travel, study, or intern abroad, you have an exciting and enriching time ahead. But there’s a lot of planning to be done beforehand to make sure everything is in place once you get there. Finding a place to live is one of the most important decisions you will have to make. One choice you will have for accommodation is to opt for a homestay with a host family. This is one of the best ways to learn about a new culture, from a secure and comfortable base. You will make new friends, experience a different way of life, and perhaps learn a new language.

Choosing the right host family can play an important part in your entire experience. All host families are carefully chosen and vetted to ensure that your homestay will be safe and comfortable. However, there are a few more things that you have to consider when choosing your family. You will want to know about everyone living in the house and their interests. It’s a good idea to make sure you are compatible, and that this will be a good base for your visit or study abroad. For au pairs, there may be questions about the work you will do and the expectations on both sides.

The Homestay Experience 

Students of all ages travel abroad for study, work, internships and language programs. Amid all the planning for travel and setting up your study or work programs, you’ll also be trying to find a place to stay. Many programs offer the choice of a homestay with a host family. For many reasons, this can be one of the best ways to enhance your study, work or travel abroad experience. It’s a convenient option, and In addition, you’ll get a more close look at another culture.

Homestays place exchange students and au pairs with a family that will provide a home, along with all other basic necessities like food and other domestic needs. For many people, this is a better choice than the impersonality of a dorm or an apartment suite. It also offers the convenience of not having to set up your housekeeping. You won’t have tp worry about paying bills or whether the heating works. But a homestay with a local host family offers much more than just convenience.

Staying with a family gives you the best possible introduction to a new culture. It gives you a safe and secure base from which to exposer your surroundings, learn the language, and take part in local activities. When visiting a foreign country for the first time, you will be faced with many unfamiliar, strange and even disorienting things and experiences. Having a secure home base and friends that you can count on will help you gain the most from your travel.

Your Host Family: What to Expect
You’re looking forward to your exchange student or au pair homestay experience. The good news is that your prospective host family are just as excited about your visit. They have been especially chosen by your homestay program for their ability to provide you with a safe and comfortable home for your stay in a foreign country. They volunteered to be part of the program which means that they are keen to host a foreign student or au pair.

They may have children of their own or their kids may have grown up and left home, and they would enjoy having a home full of young people again. They may have experience of hosting other international visitors before and may have traveled aboard themselves. They will be eager to learn about you and your culture and to share their lives with you. You can also be sure that they have been carefully chosen and vetted by your program.

You will still have to choose your ideal host family from the scores of possibilities. There are some steps you can take to make sure that you find the family that is the best match for you. It’s a good idea to communicate with them beforehand, to be sure that expectations on both sides are clearly defined. If you will be an au pair, you should know what work you will be doing, how many hours a day, how many days you can take off, etc.

How to Choose Your Host Family 

Once you have a short list of host families, you can try to narrow it down for the best match. Some ways to choose your ideal host family are discussed below. You will have a chance to talk to them beforehand, and they may be able to send you pictures of their family and home. You may also find reviews from exchange students and au pairs who have stayed with the family before.

Shared interests in culture, sports or other activities are a good starting point to determine if it will be a good fit. Do they have kids your age? What are their hobbies and interests? Will you have opportunities to do things together, such as attending cultural events and music festivals, participating in sports and outdoors activities, and taking trips to nearby cultural and historical sites?

The best way to get to know your potential hosts is through communication. This could be via email, phone, or Skype. Email and Skype offer different potential types of communication, so it’s a good idea to use both. Try to find out about everyone who will be living in the house, including pets. It’s also a good idea to find out everyone’s daily routine and make sure you will fit in.

While you can use these basic guidelines to find a compatible family, keep in mind that you may discover that people who are completely unlike you have a lot to teach you and you may become fast friends. The whole purpose of your travel and stay abroad is to learn about new ways of life and of looking at the world. You have a lot to learn, and a lot to teach as well.

Some Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your Host Family 

Good communication is the key to finding the best match for your homestay. A family’s communication style will also tell you a lot about what to expect. Make a list of all questions you might have and try to get answers to them via emails, phone calls or Skype conversations. If possible, have at least a few Skype conversations with all family members.

You will want to know about the family and household, the location, and how to get around. You may even have questions about the weather and what kind of clothing you should bring or expect to buy once you get there. Your potential host family may have local connections with schools, colleges, employers and cultural institutions. These introductions will help you settle in.  

The Family and the Setting 

If possible, talk to all family members and any others who will be staying there. If there are children your age or if you have shared interests, you may be able to do many activities together, such as visiting museums and historical sites, playing sports, attending concerts or even hiking and camping.

You will also want to know if there are any pets in the household. Many people are uncomfortable around smokers and if you are among their number, you should look for a non-smoking household. If you have any food restrictions or allergies, make sure that your host family can accommodate these.

You will also want to know about the location where you will be staying, whether there is transportation, and how to get around. Will you need an international driving license? How much should you budget for local transportation? Can your host family drive you to places you need to go? 

Specific Questions 

Depending on the purpose of your visit, you may have specific questions about your homestay. If you will be an au pair, you will want to know ahead of time what the expectations are from you, how many children you will be looking after, etc. if you’re going to be an exchange student, you may want to find out about having a quiet study space and even homework help if it’s needed. If you’re visiting for an internship, you should make sure that your daily routine will fit with everyone else in the household.

If the purpose of your visit is to study the language, make sure that your host family understands that, and that someone is willing to spend time helping you to improve your conversational skills. They may also be willing to accompany you on trips to local sights and cultural events and to treat these trips as language study field trips.

Some host families treat exchange students and au pairs as family members. They may ask you to join in holiday celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and to celebrate your birthday with them. If you prefer to spend your free time on your own, this may not work for you. On the other hand, you may be happy to join them and find that you have acquired a second family, and created a lifelong bond.

For au pairs 

The homestay experience for au pairs is a little different because they will be working for the family. Their tasks might include babysitting, helping with housework, perhaps driving the kids to school and after-school activities. You will want to ask about the kind of work they expect you to do, what your daily schedule will look like, and what your hours will be. In some countries, au pair hours are defined by law.  

You should also ask about weekends and days off, and whether you will accompany the family on trips and vacations. It will help to know about the parents’ schedules, and also if there are any medical problems that you should be aware of and what to do in case of any problems. It’s a good idea to agree upon a monthly stipend in advance, and whether you will need to pay for an insurance policy.

In choosing an au pair situation, you may also want to know why the family decided to host an au pair, and whether they have done so before. They may be able to put you in touch with their previous au pairs, via email, phone or social media, to learn about their experience with the family. You will also want to know if you will the only au pair or if there will be others with you.

And Finally

Once you’ve done all the spadework, you’ll be in a better position to choose the best host family. When making a decision, you should go with your instinct, which will guide you. If something feels wrong, you can refuse the situation. And on the other hand, if something feels right, go ahead and trust that instinct too. You won’t find a family that’s a clone of your own, but that’s not your purpose. You’re looking for a new experience that will help you to learn and grow.

Finally, keep in mind that however carefully you choose, you may encounter problems, large and small. In traveling and living aboard, as in life generally, it helps to have a sense of humor and an optimistic attitude. Be flexible and be prepared to roll with the punches. When you’ve put so much thought and care into choosing your host family, it should all work out. Just in case it doesn’t, you can change families with no hard feelings. 


The purpose of travel abroad is to learn about people and ways of life that are different from your own. The best way to do this is to keep an open mind and enjoy yourself, whatever adventures come your way. By doing your spadework and finding the right host family, you’ve created a secure base from which to go out to explore a new and exciting place. And you may find that in the process you’ve gained a second family in another country. 

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Becoming a Foreign Exchange Student | The Ultimate Guide

Just the thought of becoming a foreign exchange student can send your mind flying in a myriad of directions, all exciting, all promising of new knowledge and adventures. You may start envisioning yourself in exotic lands, visiting unique places, learning foreign words or even mastering a new language, understanding different cultures, and lifestyles or trying new delicacies to excite your palate.

Where Would You Like To Go? For How Long?

There needs to be a degree of compatibility between who you are and the place where you want to spend your stint abroad. Take the time to do some introspection and truly admit to yourself what kind of experience you are looking to live. Is your current home in a big city and are you looking to experience life in a quieter, more bucolic, less hectic location? Or do you want to experience life in a huge metropolis and maintain a hectic pace? Are you willing to move to a city or town where you do not speak or barely understand the language? You have to face how easy it is for you to learn a foreign language and whether you are willing to feel frustrated every time you try to buy something to eat for lunch.

Consider as well the time you want to spend abroad. Although the easy answer may be just one semester, think about the time and effort involved in getting there and what you will feel when you have to turn around and fly back home just a couple of months later. Would a full year abroad result in a more enriching experience? When will you have this kind of opportunity to be abroad in the future? Probably not too soon, particularly once you graduate and start your professional life.

Keep in mind, some of the above questions may not be easy to answer right now. If that is your case, give yourself credit for having an adventurous spirit and be willing to take a risk and allow yourself the joy of experiencing something that is not familiar to you at all.

You may be tempted to ask someone for references on a program, and that is always a good thing to do. However, when analyzing the replies, don’t forget to take into account who the person is giving you this rating is. Do they focus on the same things you would? Are they truly a good reference point considering the differences in your personalities? Can you conclude anything about the location or the program based on what this person is telling you? Do your viewpoints on other subjects generally coincide or is this some friend-of-a-friend you barely know? Don’t let some stranger’s opinion cloud what could truly be an outstanding experience for you.

What Are The Benefits Of Being A Foreign Exchange Student?

Besides acquiring new knowledge and immersing yourself in a foreign culture, there are additional and considerable benefits to studying away from your home country.

Improve Your Language Skills

The best way to really learn a second (or third) language is full immersion. And the best way to achieve that is by living in a country where everyone around you speaks the language you are trying to learn. Which forces you to use that language in order to effectively communicate with everyone around you. You also end up learning the language in a more natural way, incorporating idioms and expressions that the locals use.

Enjoy A New Cultural Experience

Studying and living in a foreign place will most likely take you out of your comfort zone at the beginning. You will learn to try out a new way of life which includes new customs, new traditions, and celebrations, new ways to eat and new flavors. At the end of your time abroad you may feel you have been transformed into somebody new, with a broader view of the world.

Up Your Chances Of Getting Hired Faster Once You Graduate

Finally, going abroad may end up implying benefits towards your professional future. Depending on your area of study, employers today are definitely stressing the importance of international cooperation and understanding. Therefore, students who have foreign experience, know another culture and can speak in more than language, have a decisive advantage.

Foreign Exchange Student: Educational Options

When are you looking to go abroad? You may think about going abroad during:

  • High School
  • Gap year
  • College
  • Graduate school

Let’s take a look at the programs available to you:

Academic Year Or Semester

Full academic years or semesters are the longest study-abroad options. These types of programs are best suited for those students that are looking to have a truly immersive global experience. The length of time implies additional costs so that these programs may not be accessible to everyone unless scholarship or other financial alternatives are available.

Intersession Program

These are definitely much shorter than other study abroad options. They last from one to eight weeks and may happen at any time during the year. They are mostly introductory courses that can help any student intent on gaining international experience but cannot afford a lengthier program.

Summer Program

These programs encompass three or four months and may be more suitable for those students who have a smaller budget or are more hesitant to commit to going abroad for a longer period of time.


Internships are an interesting option because they offer students the possibility of combining study and work. As a result, they give students a more complete panorama of their professional path. Also, gaining global work experience helps these students become better candidates when it comes to facing the job market. Yet, these types of opportunities tend to be more intense and time-consuming than other educational programs.

Volunteer Opportunities

These types of programs are geared towards community service projects as they incorporate them into a study abroad experience. If this catches your fancy, know that you will most likely end up working with local people which will reward you by offering you a better understanding of native life, culture, and customs. The length of these program varies, depending on location and what the project is about.

Teach Abroad

Teaching others not only gives you the pleasure of helping them but also translates into the development of interpersonal skills and leadership qualities that will help you become a better educator. In general terms, these programs involve teaching English to foreign students of different ages. They range from six months up to two years in length.

Where Will You Live While You Are A Foreign Exchange Student?

There are several options available to you as a foreign exchange student. Let’s see the good and bad of each of them to help you make a more informed decision:

Living With A Host Family

Undoubtedly this course of action will give you many rewards. As a foreign exchange student, you will have the opportunity of living with a local family, thus enhancing your language skills and getting to know and understand their culture better and in a more authentic way. These relationships will probably endure for years to come. In some cases, food and other basic needs are provided by the host family.

On the other hand, you have to take into account that you are living in someone else’s home where other rules and curfews may exist. Depending on the space you are giving within that home you may feel you don’t enjoy as much privacy as you do at home or that the standards of living are not what you are used to.

Living In A Dorm

If you are going abroad after living in a dorm at your own college or university, selecting to live in a college dorm abroad will not result in a terribly different experience for you. Most likely, our location will be convenient when trying to reach your new classrooms and other school facilities. The Resident Advisors will be there to provide additional support in both academic and social matters.

On the other hand, you have to remember, dorms are not quiet places and living in close quarters with so many of your friends may result in you not being able to concentrate when it comes to your studies. Your bedroom may not be very spacious, and you may have to look into the available meal plans offered, if any, besides paying the housing fees.

Renting A House Or Apartment

This may be the most expensive option, and you will be handling all responsibilities relating to meals, bills, laundry, and cleaning. Transportation to school (which may be far away) will add to the expenses.

On the other hand, this option gives you the freedom of choosing where and with whom to live. It also offers you the opportunity of renting with a group of friends or going it alone.

How Much Will A Foreign Exchange Student Have To Pay While Abroad?


Besides the obvious expenses of tuition and housing, one of the main considerations when planning your budget is the place where you want to go. In general terms, cities and towns in Australia and New Zealand, East Asia and Western Europe will result in higher expenses, while if you plan on going to a location in Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe or Central and South America, you will spend less.


The distance between your hometown and your home abroad also plays a role in how much to budget for. Considerations such as whether you plan to travel home for year-end vacations, for Thanksgiving or for a variety of family obligations, also add up.

Local Transportation

Learning to take the bus or subway, ride a bicycle or use a scooter can result in savings when you think of more expensive transportation methods such as renting a car or riding taxis. Learn to do what the locals do and save some money in the process.

Weekend Travel

You will definitely want to get to know your host country, and even neighboring ones, when you have a long weekend or other time-off periods. Look for accommodations in youth hostels rather than opting for a hotel. Take advantage of slower seasons and travel during less expensive times.


As a foreign exchange student, you want to have a great time and socialize with both the friends who are abroad with you and the new acquaintances you make there. Still, it is a good idea to stick to a fixed meal budget. If you are planning on taking a credit card with you, first find out the card’s policies regarding foreign transaction fees which can quickly add up. Paying with cash may work better for you and help keep you on budget. Look for free functions and other activities where locals gather, instead of falling for the usual bar scene that can really drain a budget.

Before You Go

You have filled out your application to become a foreign exchange student and been accepted to the program of your choice. Before leaving home make sure you are prepared with:

Passports And Visas

Make sure you have a valid passport before setting off. If yours is about to expire or you need a brand new one, give yourself enough time to get your passport mailed to you with plenty of time. And speaking of time, find out what type of visa will be required depending on the length of your stay and the type of program you will be attending. Some visas require several months to be processed.

Airline Tickets

Get your flight booked as soon as you know your departure date. This way you can really shop around and get the best price for your ticket. Find out how many bags your airline will allow you to carry and if there are any additional costs for extra bags.


Have you found out from your cell phone provider whether calls from a foreign country are included in your plan? If they are not, prepare a plan before leaving. Otherwise, those long-distance calls will add up and may completely unbalance even the tightest budget.
And remember, this is a unique experience that may come around only once in your life, get ready to enjoy it and make the most of every day you are there.

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Where Should You Travel to Become a Foreign Exchange Student?

Shanghai or Beijing

Shanghai and Beijing are proving to be attractive destinations for the adventurous foreign exchange student. Both are international cities with established expat communities and numerous international schools that offer various courses along a wide range of disciplines. Taking up a course in either of these cities is also a proven way to brush up and even master your Mandarin!

Beijing, which is the political capital and Shanghai, the financial capital, both offer amazing opportunities for education if you are looking to take up undergraduate or further studies. Both cities also offer a unique and in-depth look at Chinese culture as you immerse yourself in daily living in school and in your communities.

Choosing Between Beijing or Shanghai

Climate and Location

Beijing is known for its dry and frigid winters and hot summers. Shanghai enjoys more humid summers, mild weather in spring and fall and very hot summers. Students who are picky about local climates, especially those dealing with allergies and seasonal health issues should look at the different climates in both cities to see which climates are more suitable, and easier to adapt to.

Attractions and Things to Do

Being the cultural and political capital of China, Beijing is home to numerous historical and cultural attractions that draw visitors from all over the world. 

These include the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Traditions and values are widely kept among the majority of Beijingers which is seen in their local attractions. Famous attractions include the Peking Opera and the Wanfujing Street Market.

Shanghai has a thriving expat population so you see numerous international attractions in the city such as Disneyland, malls, hotels and resorts. Sightseeing is also one of the main activities in Shanghai. 

People flock to The Bund, which is where you can see the world-famous Shanghai skyline. It is also home to the French Concession which is dubbed the Paris of the East due to its French colonial history. With a large expat population, Shanghai is definitely a great option for those looking for an international feel even while living in a Chinese city.


There are schools located in Beijing that do not have campuses in Shanghai and vice versa. Your course will often determine which city you eventually live in so it is important to look at universities and what courses they offer before making your decision. Both cities have national and municipal universities and private schools that accept international students. 

Courses are varied ranging from political science to finance courses, social studies and the arts to medicine and law. There are many universities such as Tsinghua University in Beijing that offer graduate level courses in English. Beijing is also home to other notable universities such as Peking University and BLCU. Shanghai, on the other hand, is home to Fudan University and Jiaotong University.

Cost of Living

Shanghai is more expensive than Beijing, especially when it comes to food and accommodations. For example, a meal in McDonald’s may set you back more in Shanghai than in Beijing. Apartments also cost more, with units 500-1000 kuai more expensive in Shanghai than in Beijing. 

University tuition prices are not exempted, since they cost more in Shanghai as well. However, there are many student-friendly accommodation and meal options in communities surrounding most universities and your host family, if you decide to stay with one, can help you make wise buying decisions so you can learn to stretch your kuai in areas that matter.

Beijing and Shanghai both offer rich academic experiences and opportunities for the global student. However, you can choose which city is the best fit for you by looking carefully at what each city has to offer and what your preferences are. With the right choice you can enjoy your life as an international student as you study and get to know local Chinese culture even more.

New Zealand

Congratulations – you have made the life-changing decision to study abroad as a foreign exchange student and stay with a host family in New Zealand.  While Asia and Europe are understandably at the top of the list for many students, you may also want to consider New Zealand, a country well known for its stunning scenery and laid-back lifestyle.

People and Culture

Like its neighbor Australia, New Zealand is well known for its casual and relaxed lifestyle, where spending time relaxing outdoors or at a cookout is just as important as working or studying. And like Australia, New Zealand has always been something of a melting pot, attracting people from all over the world looking for a better quality of life, although the country’s native Maori culture still thrives. The diverse population is reflected in the diversity of the food, and the culinary emphasis is very much on fresh, healthy and organic fare. If you visit here as a foreign exchange student, sooner or later you will probably be invited to a barbecue or cookout. When that happens, you can expect to be served fresh and tasty meats, fish and a choice of vegetables, instead of the usual burgers and hot dogs.

The Scenery

New Zealand arguably has some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery anywhere in the world. Even if you have never visited the country before, if you have seen any of the popular Lord Of the Rings movie trilogy, you have already had a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect.

Snow capped mountains, fjords, lakes and rivers, and miles of unspoiled forests await you when you have some free time as a foreign exchange student in New Zealand. The country’s most famous and visited tourist attraction, Milford Sound, is a World Heritage site and has been described as the 8th wonder of the world.

Away from the sparsely populated countryside, the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch offer everything you would expect in the way of shopping, nightlife and dining out, arts and culture and sporting events. Wellington is the most southerly capital city in the world, while Auckland was recently voted one of the world’s most livable large cities. And Christchurch may make you think that you are in England rather than in the southern hemisphere.

Extreme Sports and Outdoor Adventures

If you love exploring the great outdoors, there is no better destination than New Zealand. The residents of this small country like nothing better than skateboarding, mountaineering, skiing, white water rafting and bungee jumping; in fact, the sport had its origins in the country, and some of the highest jumps anywhere can be found here.

Queenstown has become known as the extreme sports capital of the world, although wherever you go, there are always plenty of sporting options available. Of course, you don’t have to be into extreme sports to appreciate the country’s glorious scenery, and there are plenty of tours available, allowing you to enjoy the best scenery New Zealand has to offer at a more sedate pace.

The Universities

There are only 8 universities in New Zealand, although they all have a positive reputation, and the make up of the students reflects the country’s diversity. The University of Auckland is considered one of the most innovative universities in Asia and the South

Pacific, and over a dozen of its subjects are ranked in the top 50 in the world. Like the other colleges, the University of Auckland prides itself on making overseas students and staff feel welcome and some of the subjects on offer at the country’s universities sound intriguing. Some of the courses offered include wine studies, anthropology and Maori/Pacific studies.

If your goal as a foreign exchange student is to travel, New Zealand makes an obvious choice. In fact, you can’t travel much further than that – the country is literally on the other side of the world. It’s different enough to feel exotic and exciting and make you realize you are in a foreign country, but at the same time has many of the familiar trappings of home.

And of course, they speak English in New Zealand. The high-quality food, welcoming and easy-to-get-along-with people, wonderful scenery, and opportunities for adventure sports and enjoying the great outdoors, make New Zealand a choice destination for travel.

Rural or Urban?

When it comes to a study abroad program, there are a lot of factors to decide on. Not only do you need to determine what country you want to travel to, you need to decide if you want to stay in a rural area or in the city. You may think that this will be something easy to decide on, but once you start researching, you may find that it becomes harder.

With that said, there are a variety of factors you will want to consider for both locations when you are trying to decide on a foreign exchange student program.

Urban Program

When considering a study abroad program, the first things most people consider is going to a large international city due to all the opportunities there. They have seen pictures in magazines, the Internet and in movies and want to experience it for themselves. There is also reliable internet, television and public transportation to get around. Depending on the age of the foreign exchange student, there are a lot of other elements such as clubs and dancing.

Cities also tend to have a lot of cultural areas such as buildings, museums, public sights and attractions to keep you busy. While you are visiting these places, you will probably be exposed to a lot of different people and a variety of languages which can enhance your experience.

One benefit to a large city is that you will be able to find things that are familiar when you are having a bit of homesickness. There will be a variety of shops that you can buy food you know and may even be restaurants that also reflect your home’s culture. It may be easier to find other foreign exchange student to talk to and learn what you should and should not do while you are there.

But, as with everything else, the above come with a price. In a big city, the cost of living is much higher. The cost of living, food and entertainment can be significantly more than where the student is coming from and can cause both financial distress and culture shock. For someone who does not have a lot of money, it can be a huge when looking at the various study abroad programs.

Not only can a person experience shock when they travel elsewhere for school but they may also have a lot more distractions. If they come from a small community, and now have access to a large city, it may be difficult to settle down to school work when there are movies, museums and any other variety of temptation outside their doors.

Depending on a person’s personality, it may be more difficult to adapt and become comfortable, as traffic, population density, and many other factors can be overwhelming for new city-dwellers. It can be harder to function and get around which could result in some loneliness and isolation. If you are in a study abroad program where you stay with a family, they can help you to cope with the changes and get comfortable.

Country Program

If you choose to take a study abroad program in a rural setting, you will likely have a very different experience than others that choose an urban area. Rural areas tend to be more natural and have less of the amenities that you may find in a larger center.

Typically, a rural foreign exchange student will be in a small center which will be less polluted, with less crime, and lower living costs. You will likely stand out as someone who is not from there which can be a good thing. People will engage you in conversation and want to know about life back in your home country and why you are visiting their country. Depending on the languages involved, this can be a good way to enhance your language skills and for them to practice theirs.

It is hard to say what you may or may not have in a rural setting. You could be in an area that is only a few hundred people and has limited access to things like Internet and public transportation. You could be in an area that is close to a larger center and makes it easier for you to travel to a nearby city to explore.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to where you should be a foreign exchange student. But it is important to figure out what you want to get from your study abroad experience when you are making your decision.

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How to Become a Foreign Exchange Student and What to Expect

How to Become A Foreign Exchange Student

Ask anyone who has already done it, and they will probably tell you that studying and living overseas as a foreign exchange student can be one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of your life. If living with a host family in another country appeals to you, there are some steps you need to take to make sure that you don’t miss out on this wonderful and unique opportunity.

Plan Ahead

It can take at least several months, and sometimes up to a year to plan your exchange student experience, so you should plan accordingly. You may need to talk to your school or college, and if you are under 18, you will need your parent’s written permission for you to leave the country for that length of time.

You will need a passport, which can take at least several weeks to receive once you have applied, and depending on which country you are going to, you may need to apply for a visa too. If you aren’t sure which country you want to go to, do some research and find out what interests you; it may be the art of France, the cuisine of Italy, or the history and culture of Greece.

If there is one country that you have always wanted to visit, going there as a foreign exchange student can be an affordable, practical and fun way of experiencing it. Ask yourself how far out of your comfort zone you are prepared to be; it is a lot less challenging spending a year in France than a year in Japan or China.

And of course, you will want to make sure that you find the perfect host family. Depending on how quickly you are matched with the family that sounds ideal, that process can also take several weeks or longer. Planning ahead will also make it easier to save money. Not only will you save money on the airfare, but you will also be able to plan out your spending for after you get there.

Learn the Language

Planning your foreign exchange adventure ahead of time also means that you have plenty of time to learn the language spoken in the country you are visiting. True, as a native English speaker, you have an advantage, as English is spoken just about everywhere, including most European countries.

However, you will have a better experience as a foreign exchange student, and your host family will appreciate it, if you at least make some effort to speak the language. And being able to communicate in the language of your chosen country will play a big part in making you feel more settled, more at home and less of an outsider or someone who is just visiting.

The Internet has made it easy to learn to speak a foreign language.  You most likely won’t become fluent in time for your trip, but if you can order a meal in a local restaurant, or be able to decipher even the most basic communication, it can make your experience a lot easier, and give you a head start on learning the language once you arrive.

Embrace the Experience

Planning to go overseas to stay with a host family can be fun, as can anticipating the trip for months ahead of time. However, it isn’t unusual for many foreign exchange students to have second thoughts about leaving home. It’s important to understand that these feelings are natural, and will almost certainly pass after a few weeks.

You can fight those feelings of being homesick by immersing yourself in the experience and getting as much out of it as you can, while at the same time keeping in touch with your friends and family back home. Video chatting with your loved ones in the US every week is easy to do and doesn’t cost anything. It can make a huge difference if you are homesick and just need to see a friendly face.

It’s also worth remembering that almost all matches between host families and exchange students are successful; in fact, many students and families become lifelong friends and keep in touch after the hosting.

If you still have doubts about becoming a foreign exchange student, talk to your family and friends, as well as other students who have had this experience already. Staying with a host family is a once in a lifetime experience for most people, and you may well find that once you are with your host family, you are having such a great time that you just don’t want to come back home.

What’s Life Like as a Foreign Exchange Student?

As a foreign exchange student, you have a chance to experience life in a completely new and unique culture. If you immerse yourself in that culture, you can certainly learn a lot, even if you’re there for only 6 months. At the same time, studying abroad can be a challenge. By accepting the “bad” with the good, you can come away with tales to tell and lessons that will last you a lifetime. 

Things Will Be Different

No two countries are exactly alike when it comes to language, culture, and norms. If you choose to study abroad expect your life to be very different than it is back home. Complaining about the differences will get you nowhere. Embracing the differences will make your stay as a foreign exchange student more enjoyable. It’ll also help you make progress in your studies.

Learning the language, accepting the culture and following your host country’s norms are all a part of embracing the differences. You may have to change the way you talk, dress, or act slightly in the attempt to fit in in your new country and comply with the new culture. 

When it comes to your studies, you’ll need to be open to new teachers and teaching methods if you hope to make progress. Take into account that you’ll be the new kid on the block and will be starting from scratch when it comes to making friends and taking classes. As a foreign exchange student, adaptability will be one of your greatest assets because it puts you in a position to learn and grow.

Host Family

If this is your first time away from home, the thought of living with a strange family can be scary at best. It can also be a tremendous learning experience. To make it work, however, you’ll have to do your part. Your host family will undoubtedly have house rules they expect you to follow. 

Being considerate of their rules and customs opens the door to a good working and living relationship. Your family may also expect you to help around the house. If not, you should volunteer from time to time to show you’re willing to pitch in.

You may have to forgo certain habits, such as smoking, eating at all hours or staying out late on weekends, if that doesn’t sit well with your host family. Some of your habits may be offensive to your host family or raise questions in the area where they live. By being willing to give and take, you can likely to a come to a compromise that suits you both.

If conflicts arise with your host family, try to find common ground. Look for ways to make your situation work rather than bale out. While it’s true that some foreign exchange students change families during the course of their studies due to unresolved differences, many do not. The lessons you learn in adapting to your new situation will serve you well later on in life.

Culture Shock

It’s not unusual for foreign exchange students to suffer from culture shock due to all the differences between their host country and home. It may take you weeks or months to get adjusted to your host family, school and life abroad. Some people adjust right away while others feel “lost” for quite some time. Culture shock can put you on an emotional roller coaster as some days you may feel confused and fearful while other days you’re happy and excited to be where you are. For the most part, culture shock is normal, and your emotions will level out over time.

If you’re having a hard time adjusting, reach out to your host family. They can provide valuable help, counsel, and support when you need it most. Your host “parents” can help keep you on track, so you don’t lose sight of your goals. It helps to be on good terms with your host family as they can keep you “grounded” when your emotions run wild. You’ll also find it more enjoyable living with “strangers” if you take time to turn them into friends. The closer you become to your host family, the easier it is for them to make you feel at home.

Fear of the unknown and fear of failure can put a damper on your experience as a foreign exchange student. These are normal feelings, so take them in stride and try not to let them overwhelm you. Once you overcome language barriers and embrace cultural differences, you’ll begin to make friends and enjoy your life abroad. In addition to being educational, studying abroad should be a venture you never forget.

What If They Don’t Like Me?

Meeting your host family for the first time is a little like going on a date, meeting your classmates or arriving at work on the first day of a new job – it’s natural to ask yourself what if they don’t like me? Most foreign exchange students have those thoughts, and you would be unusual if you didn’t feel that way.

You Aren’t Alone

Everybody gets nervous when meeting someone else for the first time, and being anxious, nervous or even having second thoughts about the entire venture are certainly not unusual. As well as meeting your host family for the first time, you are probably also nervous about spending several months in a foreign country.

As soon as you get the chance, it’s okay to talk to your host family and tell them how you feel. They may be just as nervous and as uncertain as you are – most families are. And if they are quite used to having a foreign exchange student in their hose, they can sit down with you and reassure you, and explain what they expect from you.

Host Families Can Get Nervous Too

Although it may not have occurred to you, the family you are about to meet is perhaps just as anxious as you are at meeting their foreign exchange student for the first time. Excellent communication and telling each other just how you feel are essential, even though you have only just met each other.

Remember that your host family wants you to have a positive and enjoyable experience, despite the fact that you are there primarily for school. Talk to them and let them know how you feel. Being homesick often goes hand in hand with being apprehensive or anxious, and if you have never been so far from home before and are missing family and friends, talk to your host family. Skype is an excellent tool to keep you in touch with your family and friends.

Other Concerns

Many foreign exchange students are nervous or upset because they find that the family they are staying with are not quite what they pictured. Just about all of us form a mental picture of the person we are going to meet if we have talked to them, seen their photograph or read their biography.

Often the reality is a little bit different from the anticipation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just takes some getting used to. You may have submitted your application to be a foreign exchange student a year ago, and during that year you have probably changed a little bit yourself.

Don’t let that preconceived idea of what your host family will be like make you anxious and spoil the experience. Keep in mind that to truly get to know each other can take weeks or months, although it’s never too soon to start.

Not What You Expected

The environment in which you will be spending the next few months can also add to your nervousness or homesickness. Perhaps you aren’t used to living in the big city, and your host family lives in an apartment on a busy street in a large city.

Or perhaps you thrive on the sounds of traffic and your chosen family lives on a farm, or in what might be politely described as the middle of nowhere. Those preconceived ideas of what to expect can be just as upsetting.

Remember, one of the reasons you wanted to be a foreign exchange student in the first place was to experience something different and to see how people live in a different country and environment. Embrace the changes – what seems odd and overwhelming at first won’t always be that way.

Remember, it is reasonable for both the exchange student and the host family to become anxious about the experience, and perhaps even have second thoughts about the whole thing. If you are away from home for a year, that can be a long time, especially if it’s your first time away from home.

And there may be challenges. Being a foreign exchange student can be hard work, and the study time can often seem a lot longer than the free time. A new and different environment does come with its challenges, whether it’s how to operate the television or shower, cope with a barking dog or small children, or simply try to overcome the language barrier.

Many host families become firm and lifelong friends with their overseas exchange student, and by embracing the experience, you can have that positive relationship too.

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