How to Be an Exchange Student

If you're interested in becoming a foreign exchange student, there are a few things you need to do first. Living and studying in another country can be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences, but it takes a little research and effort to get there.


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    If you're interested in becoming an exchange student, the first thing you should do is research programs that offer exchange trips to the country you want to live in. Google something like "high school exchange programs to China", and hopefully you'll get a few hits of agencies that place students from the US in other countries, or the other way around.
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    Make sure you meet any admissions requirements the program may have. Most exchange program agencies require students to be a minimum age of 15, and some require you to have a GPA of at least 2.8 to be able to apply.
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    Decide if you want to go for a trimester, a semester, or a full school year. Trimesters are often much cheaper, and you can get a good "gist" of a culture by being there a few months (usually 2 to 3.) Semesters are usually the best, because you're not away from home from too long and you usually have enough time to get a great experience of the culture, take some interesting classes, and they're cheaper than full school years. Full school years would definitely be the most culturally stimulating of the options, and you'd definitely get an amazing experience, but it comes at a considerable cost, and you'd be away from home for a good while (usually 9-10 months.)

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    Once you've found an agency that looks promising, look into the dates they offer for departures, their pricing and financial aid, and most importantly, how they select host families and how they will place you.
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    Find the application on the site, fill it out, and send it in at least 6 months before the deadline for the date you want to leave. Usually you'll hear back whether you're accepted or not accepted.
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    If you can't afford the whole cost of tuition, apply for a scholarship or financial aid. Scholarships are usually given based on how high your GPA is, and financial aid is based on need. You could also do your part by getting a job (with reasonable hours) or fund raising.
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    Once all the dates are in order, your flight is booked, your records are transferred, and your host family has been selected, do a little more research. If you know the name of the school you'll be going to, research it online. Look into their classes, extracurriculars, and the surrounding city. This background knowledge will make you a little less nervous when it's time to leave.
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    Talk to your school guidance office about what mandatory classes you need to take before/after your trip. Usually you can get credit for the classes you take overseas, but if there's still a class you need to take that the school in your program country doesn't offer, take it before or after you leave.
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    Get some background knowledge on your host family through papers or letters the agency may have sent you, or by writing a letter or email to them. This will make it a lot easier to talk to them in person once you get there, and they won't seem like such strangers if you've had prior communication.

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    Start packing at least two weeks in advance. Make a thorough check list of everything you'll need, and check it off as you go. As you'll be leaving for 3-10 months, you'll need to pack a LOT of stuff. Find the biggest suitcase in your house (if you don't have one, it might be a good idea to get one), and pack as much in it as you can. Be aware of any weight restrictions your airline has for baggage, and pack accordingly. Only pack things you really need (but of course things like books, magazines, iPods, and a few things that remind you of home are fine). If there is a weight restriction, try packing most of your things in a large suitcase you'll check at the airport, and packing the rest in a lighter bag you'll carry on the plane.
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    Bring a good amount of spending money. You'll need a lot while you're there, and as it's a whole new country, it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to money. Your host family will probably only provide you with food and a place to stay, and anything else you may need will be your responsibility to get. You will want to get a few hundred US dollars worth of your host country's currency to start out, and also bring a credit card (for larger purchases) and an ATM card to withdraw bills monthly.
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    Look into getting your cell phone and your parents' cell phones programmed so you can make regular phone calls across continents. This will also provide you with a way to make calls and communicate with people while staying in your exchange country, and it will help you feel not so far away from home. You can also communicate through email and letters.
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    Have fun! This is very likely a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so be sure to make the most of it!


  • If you're having problems with your host family, don't be afraid to go to your local representative and ask for help, or if it's really not good, to change host families.

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Categories: Learning Techniques and Student Skills