In a foreign exchange student program, a student (high school or college) will go to a different country to continue their education. These became popular after World War II, for the express purpose of teaching younger people about foreign cultures, languages, and customs. And for the students, it sends them to a far away place, to learn in a whole new environment.
Exchange students will live with a “host family” a local home that has agreed to let the student live there for the duration, or will stay in a local hostel, or even student housing. These programs are funded by the students themselves, either by loans or coming out of pocket, but there are scholarships available for some schools and programs. Overall, the cost varies wildly from one program to the next. And usually does not cover travel or food expenses.
Typically, a foreign exchange program will last for a year, or the length of a school year. But there are also shorter programs, called “cultural exchange programs” that last from one month to the length of a summer vacation. These programs usually involve social acitivites or customs, or community service (going abroad to live in a village and work to improve it).
Depending on which country is hosting, and how long the student’s stay will be, there will be some immigration paperwork to be done. For this reason, the process for application and acceptance for these programs takes a considerable amount of time – usually six to ten months before the program starts the student will need to be approved so they can begin the procedures to getting passport and whatever kind of VISA they might need. The application process itself requires many forms to be filled out, as well as school transcripts and medical records, and in some cases a background check.
After that, the student will need to pass a physical, and make sure they have all required shots, vaccines, and innoculations. Different parts of the world have different diseases, so this is a very important part of the process. Usually, the program will provide some type of health insurance or coverage for the student, so make sure to get all the details on that aspect.
Make no mistake, there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get into one of these programs. But after the student is away from home, will it all be worth it? It’s not an easy answer. A great many students find excitement, enrichment, and happiness by moving to a new school in a new place – sometimes change is good. But on the other hand, there is the potential for “culture shock” from being immersed in a foreign culture, and exchange students in foreign-speaking places often have longer, more intense bouts of homesickness.
Are you interested in joining a foreign exchange program? Or perhaps hosting a student of your own? Check out my next blog for more information on where to begin.