Taking Part in an Exchange Program

Vor einiger Zeit wurde dieser Artikel von einer inzwischen ehemahligen Schülerin im Rahmen eines Auslandsjahres geschrieben. Von seiner Aktualität und Bedeutung hat er nichts verloren.

American Studies
Today's youth is lazy, uninterested, and always looking for the easiest way to get through life! That is what many adults think nowadays. Of course there are examples where this statement can be proved, but there are also many examples of young persons who go through their lives with eyes wide open and the strong intention to do something with their life instead of wasting it. One example is people who spend some months abroad during their high school or college time. Exchange students are young birds, thrown out of their safe nests. They experience how much fun it is to fly around and explore the world, which seems to be so much bigger than before. I think there should be more students taking part in exchange programs because you get to know another language and another culture and it is a great challenge; it will certainly help in future job applications, and it really is fun!

The first challenging change you will have to face when you go to live in another country is the language. Of course you will make some mistakes at first, but don't we all learn from our mistakes? After a few weeks you will notice how you understand people better and better and you too will start talking more and more. To see your own prompt progress makes you feel very good about yourself. Your self-confidence will certainly grow and this will make you braver to face new challenges. Besides, you will have to live with a different family, in a different town, and with a different cultural background. This seems to be very frightening in the beginning, but if you open your mind widely and let things develop you will see that although everything is strange it can be a very enriching experience.

Next, there is the emotional aspect: you will miss your family, friends, and your normal surroundings! I don't want to make you think that it is easy, but when you try and work hard to fit into the new culture and family instead of letting sadness and homesickness get control over you, you can get over your negative emotions and grow more independent that way. After your return you will know how to handle difficult situations more easily because you experienced and handled plenty of them. In addition, you will be able to be more tolerant of people from different cultural backgrounds, because you will have experienced on your own what it means to be different. Also, you will have learned to accept that people act in another way than what you were used to. All in all this makes you a stronger, a better person, and you will be more successful in your later life.

Yet, being an exchange student is exciting; it does not mean problems over problems all day long. You will certainly enjoy your time abroad. In school you can choose the subjects you are interested in so that school is more fun and more interesting. Additionally, you can try out new things you have never done before such as sports, associating with different social groups and so on. Nobody knows you in the new country. You can be the person you want to be, which you were never able to do at home because of the expectations of the people who know you. You can start all over again while getting to know many new people and hopefully making friends. They will show you how they spend their time, and they will ask you to join them. If you are open to new things, you will probably find something you are enthusiastic about and come home with lots of wonderful experiences and memories.

Furthermore, having spent time abroad is a notable quality and can be a criterion for employers who read about it in your curriculum vitae when you are applying for a job. That is because leaving your home and everything behind you shows your flexibility and your readiness to face challenges. Besides, they will be pleased about your knowledge of the language. Because of these skills, they will be more likely to employ you instead of somebody with the same professional qualification but without such experience.

In the meantime what many people might ask you is if you want to run the risk to "loose one year at school," because you might have to repeat the school year you missed. However, how can you say that this year was lost? You will earn so many wonderful and worthwhile, exciting experiences that you would have missed if you had not taken the opportunity to study abroad. This year is as "lost" as you decide to make it. It's all up to you whether they are right and you just kill the time while being abroad, or if you get the most you can out of it. Again, here it's up to you to decide if you want to take all the difficulties, the challenges, and the work, while getting all the rewards for it back. The other option is to remain where you are with nothing but your everyday life that can never be as exciting as living abroad. You have to decide for yourself whether this experience is worth all this effort. I can tell you only my point of view: It really, really is!

In summary, I think that everybody should consider leaving their safety and comfort behind and just going for some months to another country. By spending a longer time abroad you will internalize a new culture including the language. Also, you will get to know many new people and you can develop friendships that will last long after your return home. You will grow to be an independent, caring, mature person much sought-after by employers, and you will have so much fun that you will forget all the problems you had along the way. So just get up and think about it! If I can do it, you can do it too!

Sarah Ott (Abiturientin)