Foo went on a 3-month exchange program with SCCE to France in November 2018. Here she shares her Top Ten tips for future students based on her student exchange experiences. Enjoy!
The snowy streets of France
Have you ever thought about travelling to a new destination, to live and fit into their culture? If you have then student exchange is the best for you.
I did student exchange myself, 3 months in the gorges Reims, France in 2018. It was such an AMAZING experience and it still feels like I only just got back from this phenomenal time. I would like to thank Southern Cross Cultural Exchange for organising my exchange program and being super supportive along the way.
Now let’s get into “10 TIPS & ADVICE TO KNOW BEFORE GOING ON A STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAM!”
1. DON’T STRESS IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE LANGUAGE
So I’ll admit, I definitely knew no French before going on my student exchange program, the last time I took French classes were 3 years before I went. Learning the language is so much easier WHEN YOU’RE THERE! This is because you’re surrounded in this new culture and consistently hearing the language. You start picking it up real quick. Don’t stress too much if you are scared about not knowing how to communicate, however I still stress you learning as much as you can (especially on that 23 hour plane trip). Some awesome ways you can learn a new language is by trying out language apps such as Duolingo. This is amazing. It teaches you the basics that you need on a daily basis, all for free. You can also try changing the language on your Netflix. We all LOVE movies and I suggest picking your favourite movie and watching it in a new language, or simply turn on English subtitles to get a better understanding and the flow of the language. There are plenty of pocket sized travel booklets at travel agencies. I carried these around and it really helped me so much in France. The booklet pretty much contains most commonly asked questions and phrases you may need.
2. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE
Going to a new country is scary, especially if it is your first time traveling. It is 100% normal to be nervous. But, you shouldn’t feel alone. Whatever student exchange company you go with will help you to feel comfortable, you will be given badges for the airport, LOTS of different contacts if something happens and you may even be travelling in a small group of exchange students. There are so many people who will support you through this journey, so don’t be afraid.
3. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO? HOW LONG IS BEST?
There are set months for travelling depending on the country you choose and the duration of your student exchange program. This is because the point of the program is to experience school life, so the dates coordinate with their school dates. Look at all the options available. The length of your program is obviously your choice, but I recommend 3 months or longer. NOW! I say this because it takes a few weeks for you to fully adjust to the new routine, and by the time you just got the flow of learning the language and adjusting to the new lifestyle the time is over. I think 3 months is too short. Student exchange is your chance to push the boundaries of your abilities, you will 100% enjoy every moment there. I say the best time to go is year 10, this is because years 11/12 are a stressful time for all of us and I don’t recommend missing out on those years. Year 10 you are still young and ready to learn and explore, and going into years 11 /12 with the new knowledge you have gained is so amazing.
4. IT IS BETTER TO UNDER PACK
Now, let me tell you something. You will return home with 70% of your luggage being filled with presents and souvenirs. I had to leave stuff behind in France because they didn’t fit into the two bags of luggage I brought with me. Only pack the ESSENTIALS: the absolute must-haves, so yes, leave the curling iron at home. A lot of things you can purchase over there anyways.
Some subjects can be learnt in any language!
5. SCHOOL ISN’T SCARY
I must admit I didn’t understand anything they were doing in class, but school was somehow so enjoyable. Everyone wants to know you, they will always ask you questions and you’re never alone. You make so many friends and it’s such an amazing experience. Plus, experiencing different school environments, classes and routines is so much fun. It makes you appreciate the 7 hours of school we do in Australia because French schools go for 10 HOURS!! I say take this time to practice your French as much as you can, the other students will help you as much as they can.
6. DO RESEARCH
I mean this is an obvious one, do your research beforehand. Learn habits about the culture so it doesn’t overwhelm you too much when you head over there. Learn the history of tourist attractions and I swear it makes your experience that much better. Research the food, if you have a dietary requirement do your research, learn what you can eat and what you can’t. I’m a vegetarian and lactose intolerant and I truly wished I did some research on food because vegetarianism is very uncommon in France. So it was hard for my host family and me to figure out what I can consume.
7. YOUR HOST FAMILY ARE TRYING
The language barrier will be hard between you and your host family, but know they are doing everything for you to enjoy your stay and be comfortable. These people are volunteers, they do not get money for taking us in. We have to show our appreciation as much as possible because they are adding another member into their lives trying to show us their lives and culture whilst juggling work. I suggest on your last day take them out for dinner to say thank you and celebrate your time together. Or occasionally buying flowers for the house. Anything to show your appreciation.
There is so much to see and experience
8. EXCHANGE PROGRAM TEAM/ORGANISERS HELP YOU ALL THE WAY
Before your departure, your organisation will do all the paper work. They organise plane tickets, your host family, help with your student visa, etc. You just need to provide as much information as possible, and they will do an interview with you as well, to get to know you better. They hold many student exchange information webinars online and in person, and I advise you go to as many of these as possible because there is great information given out, booklet exercises, plus past students who have done student exchange are often there to answer your questions. Take in as much as you can because everything helps.
9. DON’T SET SUPER HIGH EXPECTATIONS
This program is for you to understand and adapt to a new culture and to attend school. You are NOT there for a holiday. Your host family are normal families who have to work, so they won’t always have the time to take you everywhere, but they are trying to show you as much as they can. But trust me, just seeing the super market will get you so excited because how often do you see a cheese deli? Or eggs where you have to package them yourselves in stores? Appreciate all the time you have because time flies by SO SO quick and before you know it, your program is over.
You are one of the family.
10. Enjoy your time
Time flies by when you’re having fun. Every memory you make there is everlasting. You will remember every small detail, the faces, the streets you walk on… take all the time whilst you can. I can guarantee you any worries and doubts you had will disappear because you are consumed in all of the excitement and absorbing all this new information. Exchange learning with your host family! Bake them Anzac cookies, teach them English, teach them the correct way of eating Vegemite.. it’s a learning experience for all.
Thank you Fooau!
CLICK HERE to enquire about your own student exchange program!