Some weeks ago I asked you to vote for a topic I should write about and today I proudly present the answers to the most important questions of all future exchange students. For this special upload I asked some of my exchange-friends (unfortunately only girls) to help me, because it would be very boring to hear only my opinion. All our experiences are different, they are unique. They depend on us, the exchange student, our home and host country, our host family, our host school and so much more. But read it yourself! I hope you enjoy 🙂
Dymphi – from Belgium in Dominican Republic – check out her amazing blog: www.dymphigoesglobal.wordpress.com
Annika – from Germany in Argentina (10 months)
Silvia – from Italy in Russia (10 months)
Ella – from Belgium in Finland (10 months) – she also has a super inspiring blog: www.ellascraps.wordpress.com
Carla – from Germany to Australia (4 months)
Franziska – me, from Germany to Russia (10 months)
Was it difficult to leave your family and friends from your home country?
Dymphi: No, I’ve wanted this for a long time, and I was too excited to be sad!
Annika: The worst moment was saying goodbye, but when I was in my hostcountry I didnt even think about them at the beginning. There are so many new and mabye weird things to do, that you dont have time to think of them.
Ella: Not really, because I was careful to enjoy quality time with everyone I care about before leaving, and saying goodbye properly. I met up with people separately and also did a small goodbye party with my family. I think avoiding the topic and not thinking/talking about the departure/the goodbye is the worst thing you can do, because then the shock will be worse and you’ll miss everyone much harder, especially the first days/weeks. (I’ve seen it happen with friends!)
Is it difficult to live in a host family?
Dymphi: It took some adapting to their schedule and habits, but now I really feel like a member of the family.
Annika: For me it wasn´t dificult to live in a host familiy. At the begining it was a little bit strange and of course you have to get used to it (and your hostfamiliy too) and you need time for this. But from day to day you feel how your relationship with your hostfamily is growing and that makes you really happy. And if you have to change the familiy…it isn´t that bad. Of course it´s hard and sometimes you just feel very bad, but it really helped me and made my exchange much better. First I was really afraid of the change, but it was the right thing.
Ella: Yes, sometimes it’s very hard. There are different habits, rules, etc. and you’re also different people, raised in a different way. The different culture also adds to that. It’s important to remember that it’s normal to not get along with people 100% and also that you have problems in your own family back home, too.
Franziska: It wasn´t that hard as I expected it to be. Maybe because you change your whole personality when living in a new family. Especially in the beginning I was very polite, quiet, agreed to everything, in one word – I didn´t act like I´d have done it at home. That made many things easier.
How is school?
Carla: My school was absolutely fantastic! The teacher were all very nice and they helped me whenever I needed help. My classmates were nice but it was a big school with lots of exchange students so some of them didn´t actually care.
Silvia: The first day of school was pretty strange, mainly because I didn’t understand anything and not everybody could speak English. I remember I was quite disappointed with the fact that nobody really seemed to care about having an exchange student. During the year, anyway, things changed a bit and I got to know some really amazing people not only in my class. Now that school is over, I still can’t say that I loved it, but I just learned to accept and follow it like everyone else.
Annika: The first day at school was very weird. We had kind of a assembly with all the students of my school and the director tould everyone that there is a new exchangestudent at school. My classmates asked me a hundered questions, butI didnt understand anything of it. But I learnd everyday a little bit more the language and got to know my classmates more and more. And there are all really nice!
It helped me a lot, that I was „interesting“ at the beginning, so it was much easier to make friends. But for me school is one of the best things here. Of course its often really boring, but in school you find your friends and you learn a lot of the language.
Franziska: I can´t actually say that I had a lot of fun in school, but it was OK. My teachers are nice, the students very interested and always ready to help. But it was hard to find friends in my school. My classmates are always very busy in the afternoon and in the beginning, when I didn´t know Russian, it was very almost impossible to communicate with them, because only a few of them know English. I like them and they like me, but we are just too different to be close friends.
Are you able to follow the lessons?
Dymphi:The lessons are pretty easy, so yes. In the beginning I didn’t understand anything, except for French and English, but now I can follow everything. That doesn’t mean I do, it’s still pretty boring.
Carla: Yes I was. But classes like maths etc. were sometimes difficult.
Silvia: Unfortunately, I have never been able to fully understand the lessons, and therefore it was impossible for me to follow the class.
Annika: When I arrived I didn´t understand anything. But there are subjects that you are able to do, for example maths. And with the time you understand more and more. Now I understand everything (with little exceptions).
Ella: In the beginning I couldn’t at all, except for the language lessons of languages that I already knew or easy math. Now it’s still impossible for some subjects, like history, but I have to be honest and say that I also don’t try that hard. In my situation, I go to class and attend but don’t do any exams. (I do tests.)
Franziska: Now I am, but in the beginning I didn´t understand anything and therefore school was very boring. Here in Russia subjects like maths are more difficult then in my school and because I am too lazy I didn´t attend to them at all. Instead I learned Russian together with the 2nd and 3rd form 😀
Silvia: I never felt homesick until November, I think. Since then, sometimes it can happen to feel down or to miss my family more than usual, but generally I say that it’s not a real “homesickness”… The thing is, when things don’t go very well where you are, you start to think about your country and everything seems worse than it actually is. I found it very useful for me to write down a diary, or some short thoughts or whatever. It really helps you get rid of anxiety and make order in your head, and plus you can re-read what you wrote in the future and understand things that maybe at the moment weren’t so clear to you. It is also a great way to have some physical memories of your time even when you’ll be back to your home country.
Annika: Before I went to my hostcountry I thought I will be homesick very often. But since I am here there was almost nothing. Like 1 or 2 days mabye (and I am here since almost 9 month).
Ella: Yes. I had it the first weekend, when I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the impossible language and being surrounded by strangers. I also had a very homesick Christmas. Sometimes it’s a random feeling, when I see what my family or good friends at home are up to, or even just seeing something about my home country or town or any familiar place can trigger some homesickness. But it’s never that overwhelming. What I do mostly is write in my journal, meet up with friends or skype with people back home, or just distract myself!
Being homesick in a new place is a strange thing, though, because the people you miss have never been in the places you are now/will be. The missing will mostly be the yearning to be back home with them. But there’s almost nothing that makes you think of that when living this new life in these different places, because you can’t “miss” them there, in a place they never were. Does that make sense? 😛
Franziska: During the year I was homesick maybe 2 or 3 times. But of course I missed my family and friends, my daily routine, the sun, German food, my freedom, my bed and our cats more often. I´ve learned that homesick doesn´t mean to miss one special person or place. It means to miss the feeling of being surrounded by people who know you, who understand you, who love you and of knowing how to act in the right/“normal“ way.
Are you communicating with your friends at home often?
Silvia: In the beginning my friends were getting in touch with me very often and not to disappoint anyone I tried to answer to their messages as soon as I could, even if it was annoying sometimes. With time, some of them stopped writing to me, while my best friends still get in touch with me every now and then. Personally, I prefer it this way, because most of the time I felt like my friends couldn’t really understand what I was going through.
Ella: Yes. I have a blog, Instagram and snapchat and talk to friends on facebook too. There’s only three or four, though, and definitely not every day. Once a week, approximately. And it’s nice. It doesn’t distract me from having a full experience. I’ve even become better friends with some people on this exchange, but I am in most contact with people that I am friends with here, actually.
Language? Did you know it, have you learned it and can you communicate with people in your host country now?
Dymphi: I didn’t know any Spanish, but now I’m fluent. I understand everyting, most of the time, and can have pretty decent conversations. People also tell me I speak in a Dominican accent, which makes me really happy!
Ella: I didn’t learn it (Finnish), and it’s very, very hard. I also slacked about it a lot, thinking it would happen without having to make such a huge effort. I do understand a lot now, and I’m studying every day. I regret not doing it sooner! But I’m starting to be able to communicate better and better, so I have to just keep going!
Franziska: I studied Russian in school, but wasn´t able to speak. Now I understand everything. Honestly I am not satisfied with my speaking, even though people tell me that my pronunsiation and vocabulary is rather good; but I wish I knew more words, was 100% fluent…
What did you bring as a gift to your host family?
Carla: I brought them Wool socks 🙂 they liked it a lot !!!
Annika: I made a album with fotos of my friends, family, school, city, my hobbies ect. So they could see how is my life in my homecountry like. And I brought chocolate and other sweets/food from my homecountry.
Ella: I brought chocolates and a book about Belgium, also gifts for each of my host sisters: a cook book w/ traditional Belgian recipes for my host sister that I knew did cooking school and a little art kit for my little sister. They were really happy with it!
Was it easy for you to find friends in your host country?
Dymphi: In the beginning, no. I didn’t have a smartphone so I couldn’t easily communicate with other people. I wasn’t a very outgoing person. Once I got one (in December), I had a lot more friends, and I started to be more social as well. In the beginning, I had mainly friends from AFS, but now I have both Dominicans and AFSers as friends. Though my AFS friends are really my best friends!
Silvia: Personally, it was never easy for me to make friends, not even in my country, therefore here in Russia it was even harder than I thought. While adults were always interested in asking questions and having a talk, teenagers generally didn’t seem to care about me being from another country and culture. Nevertheless, I managed to find some good friends taking part in as many competitions/activities that my school offered and meeting people even outside my school.
Annika: Yes it was easy, because my hostsister introduced me to a lot of people. And at my school I found friends too, because I am together with whem every day.
Franziska: No, but I think it´s just because I am not that person who easily makes friends. Most of all I spend time with my hostsister. Really close friendships I have only with other exchange students.
Ella: Yes, because I am lucky to be in school with people that welcomed me with open arms and took me in their group of friends. I also have an AFS first friend that introduced me to people, which caused me to have friends in multiple classes over the grades in school. I also did some hobbies and through my host family I made new friends. In the group of exchange students you also make friends for life.
What’s important is to be yourself from the start and to not be scared of talking to people, because mostly they are intimidated by the (English-speaking) foreigner. Also beware of sticking with people you don’t really like, or that don’t treat you right. If you feel like you should be friends with others, don’t feel like you’re trapped and just go for it.
If you don’t make friends that easily in school, that’s also not the end of the world. School can sometimes be a nasty environment and a lot of exchange students end up not fitting in. Often the exchange students and the relationships between those groups compensate greatly for that!