Going on exchange is NOT a holiday. It is experiencing a new culture from the inside, making new friends, becoming part of a new family and a journey of self-discovery. So, how do you ensure you make meaningful connections while on exchange?
Our returnee exchange students have offered the following tips for bonding with your host family, making friends at school, and getting involved in your new local community.
Bonding with your host family.
Your relationship with your host family is a crucial and enriching part of your exchange and can lead to a lifelong connection. Our returnees students suggest that you:
Show interest in their culture and share yours with them.
- Ask questions about local customs and participate in their cultural practices.
- Cook a meal from home to share with them.
Engage in daily activities and communicate openly:
- Help with chores around the house – ask what chores you are expected to do as a family member. This can be making your bed, feeding the dog, helping with the dishes, etc.
- Join family activities, such as eating together or a family outing. You won’t get to know them if you stay isolated in your room!
- Be open and honest in your communication and let them know how you feel.
Respect household rules and be considerate:
- Every household has its own set of rules. Make sure to understand and respect them.
- If you’re unsure about something, always ask.
- Be mindful of your behaviour and its impact on the family.
- Show appreciation for allowing you to become part of the family.
Learn the Language:
- Making an effort to learn and use their language shows respect for their culture and helps with communication.
- Practice at home with your family.
Remember, every host family is unique, and building a relationship can take time, so be patient, open-minded, and respectful. You will likely find your experience with your host family to be one of the most rewarding aspects of your exchange program.
Making new friends.
Making new friends at school during your exchange can be exciting and challenging. As an exchange student, you’re not just adjusting to a new school environment but often to a new culture and possibly a new language. Our returnee students’ top tips include:
Be open and approachable:
- Smile at people
- Have an open and positive body language
- Be yourself. Authenticity attracts genuine friendships.
Take the initiative:
- Introduce yourself – don’t wait for others to approach you.
Get involved with school life:
- Get involved in school activities such as clubs and sports.
- Attend school events, games, or social gatherings that offer an opportunity to meet new people.
Find your people:
- Find shared interests or common ground, such as a favourite sport, band or hobby.
- Participate in extracurricular activities that align with your interests. It’s a great way to meet students with similar interests.
Use the language barrier to your advantage:
- Practice words and phrases with your peers and ask them for help when needed. Offer to teach them English in return!
Building friendships doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient and keep a positive attitude. The friendships you form during this time can often last a lifetime.
The local community
As a member of your host family, you are part of their local community, and this opens many opportunities to meet new people and participate in local activities such as:
Local events, festivals and community gatherings:
- Attend cultural events, festivals, and public celebrations. You might even get the opportunity to participate!
- Attending local gatherings with your host family and friends is a great way to show your interest in being part of the local community and neighbourhood.
Engage with Neighbours and Locals:
- Introduce yourself to your neighbours and local shopkeepers.
- Frequent the local markets, shops, and cafes.
- Follow local news and stay informed about what’s happening in the community. It can be a good conversation starter and shows your interest in local affairs.
Your exchange program has the potential to be one of the most enriching experiences of your life. By building meaningful relationships and immersing yourself in local activities, you’ll broaden your horizons and create lasting memories.
So, step out of your comfort zone, dive into the whole exchange experience, and make the most of every minute!