What it’s like to be a foreign exchange student
March 17, 2016
What’s it like to be a foreign exchange student? This question has been on my mind for a while. I have been watching vlogs of other students who speak about their exchange year. I have made friends with them and have even met up with them in different cities. I was so excited to find out what to expect, what to be prepared for, and what an adventure was waiting for me in America. And person by person, I kept getting the same answer: “There isn’t an exact answer; you will have a different experience. You are responsible for how your year will turn out!” And now, after more than half of a year of living in America, I can say that that statement was truthful.
I can not even explain how weird, interesting, scary, and exciting everything is during the exchange year. Every day I wake up and I don’t recognize anything. Everything I’m used to stayed in Ukraine while I am now in America. To be honest, the first few weeks were like an emotional roller coaster: I was waaaaaay too excited for everything (I mean, really, when I met my host parents at the airport, I was almost crying. I was shaking and laughing the whole time.) I have a memory of my first conversation with my host parents. I said, “I promise you, I’ll be normal, just give me some time!” And now, we are a real family and I have no idea how I am going to survive without them when I go back to Ukraine.
The first couple of months I would describe with the word awkward. First of all, school. If you have ever been a freshman (and you were or still are, since you’re reading this on a high school news website), you can understand how foreign exchange students (me included) feel during their first few days in new school; scared, awkward and lonely. Now add a poor knowledge in language and taa da – you’re foreign exchange student.
Sounds fun, right? Not really. But the best feeling was waiting for me when I made my first friends in classes. I joined clubs and sports and that got me to know even more people. I began to enjoy experiencing new things and finding much more about the country I had just moved to. And I know that there were more and more experiences to come. Pleasure.
Most of the foreign exchange students from different countries, being on different programs, have the same set of strict rules. For example, I have common ones like no alcohol, drugs, and sex, which are not strange rules to have. But I also have to deal with a bunch of weird ones, like no tattoos, no hair dye, no hanging out with boys in a house with no adults and so on. Weird. If you break the rules, you either get in a big trouble or just end up being sent home. It is a price you get to pay for not being a good ambassador of your country.
Talking about being an ambassador of the whole country, I had and I’m still having a lot of fun sharing my culture. I enjoy making Ukrainian meals, talking about how everything is back home, teaching my friends and family Ukrainian and so on. During the International Education week, I had a couple of presentations about Ukraine in front of my classes and that was great.
Is it hard to be a foreign exchange student? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely yes. I fell in love with this country, with Americans and their culture. I will never forget this year.
I can never be thankful enough for the help that I received during my year. People were and still are offering their help with anything I seem to be struggling with. It has made a great impression on the whole nation. Thank you for everything.