So Your Teen Wants to be a Foreign Exchange Student?
This article will provide parents with perspective as to the value, pro’s and con’s of your teen’s desire to be a foreign exchange student.
The short answer is YES. Ideally, all North American teens should have the opportunity to travel and see how kids their age live in other parts of the world. There are so many benefits to traveling; language skills, gaining new perspective, and understanding, to name just a few.
Learn A Language
The best way to learn a language is by immersion, and an exchange program provides the perfect conditions for soaking up a ton of vocabulary. Even if the student ends up in a situation where the hosting student they exchange with has studied English, the rest of the family may not have. As exchange students, teens have the opportunity to use the language they are studying every day.
Living with a host family means learning firsthand about another culture. From simple things like the kind of food they prepare in the home, to customs and religious beliefs. It is far different learning these things in the home of a family that is taking care of your basic needs than it is on the internet where it may be colored by someone else’s prejudice.
Cultural immersion programs help students stand out on their college applications in the same way extracurricular activities do. Students who have been exchange students are viewed as more well rounded. Beyond college it will also look good on a first resume.
Before my trip to Japan we had classes to learn a few polite phrases, and a bit about the culture. I don’t think we were quite prepared for the responsibility of being ambassadors for our country. I had a little insight into Japanese culture because my Dad’s customers were all Japanese, and we entertained them a lot. Looking back, I feel like I could have been a little more respectful. One evening we sat down to dinner, and I was faced with a fish with the head still on. I was completely repulsed, and tried to give it to my homestay sister, Yuki. Much, much later I realized I should have done my best to show gratitude, and eat what I could. As a teenager, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. Looking back I could see what I missed in the moment, there wasn’t a fish on every plate at the table.
A Serious Downside
As a Mom, I am intensely aware of the safety of my daughter. I probably have more separation anxiety than she does. As someone who spent my adult life working on yachts all over the world, I’m also aware of how hard it must have been for my parents to not always know where I was, and if I was safe. The older I get, the smaller the world seems, but I still have a big fear that my daughter will follow in my footsteps and meet and fall in love with someone in another country where I may only see her once a year and then have kids that will not grow up baking cookies in my kitchen. Perhaps it’s a little nutty that I am working out all these scenarios while my daughter is still two, but my concerns are valid! I’ll be looking for exchange opportunities for her while she is still too young to find her soul mate!
This has been a Guukle Guest submission by Lizzie Evans
Lizzie Evans is a parent, journalist and world traveler, currently she is working on teaching Spanish to her toddler via play and social engagement.