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How to Prepare for a High School Exchange Program


high school exchange student enjoying a train ride through their host countryA high school exchange program can be extremely rewarding. For many students, it’s the high point of their secondary education.

Wherever in the world you are thinking about studying, you will benefit from thoroughly researching high school exchange programs before you commit.

After all, you’re considering leaving your home for up to a year – there is a lot to think about first!

Here are some of the basic questions to ask before you sign up for a high school exchange program. Once you answer these questions, you can focus on the details as you prepare for your time abroad.

Finding an Exchange Program

Programs Offered Through Your School

If you’re interested in participating in a high school exchange program, you should ask your guidance counselor if your school has an established program in place.

Some schools have very active programs with significant waiting lists, while others do not have enough interested students to have a dedicated program. Even if your high school lacks its own exchange program, there is likely at least one that serves your city.

Programs vary quite a bit. With some, your family will have to host an exchange student from another country while you are gone, while others offer this option but do not require it.

Look into the details of the high school exchange programs available to you before you make a commitment.

Programs Offered Through Outside Organizations

If your school or city does not offer any exchange programs, begin doing some outside research. There are lots of programs you can do through. Start by conducting a basic Google search. Organizations like Asse offer lists of programs for your to peruse while the Bureau of Education and Cultural website offers a great directory.

Before you start delving into these options though, it’s important that you narrow down your focus. Think about where specifically you would like to study abroad, how long you want to be away, and what kind of program you are interested in participating in.

As you start narrowing down you list, make sure you stay in constant contact with your school guidance counselor. It’s important that you keep them in the loop throughout the process. Plus, they may be able to provide you with additional suggestions and ideas.

high school exchange student exploring the streets of her host countryAcademic Requirements

Your high school may have a particular policy when it comes to transferring credits after you study abroad. If you do not find this out first, you could end up having to retake certain courses upon your return – even if you already took them while abroad.

Ask your school counselor or the person in charge of the exchange program which credits will transfer so you can plan your school schedule accordingly.

If it turns out your credits will not transfer and you still want to participate in a high school exchange program, you just need to ensure you make up the credits before you graduate. This may require summer school or even an additional year of high school. Consider how you want to proceed with your classes before you sign up for the program.

And always remember, if your school won’t allow you to study abroad during the academic year, you can always explore summer abroad options. This way, you don’t have to worry about taking additional courses to catch up to your peers.

Once you have an academic plan in place, depending on where you have chosen to study abroad, you may need to get your academic documents translated. As part of your exchange program application, you will be asked to provide school transcripts and possibly additional supporting documentation such as recommendation letters and personal statements. If you’re applying to a program in a country where the primary language isn’t English, these documents will need to be translated accordingly.

Find out about this requirement before you begin applying .

Culture Shock

A common experience felt by students who study abroad is the sensation of culture shock. Even if you choose a country in which most people speak your language, that doesn’t mean that the culture will be the same or even necessarily similar to what you’re familiar with back home.

It’s difficult to prepare in advance for culture shock, but by accepting ahead of time that you will most likely experience it and realizing that it is a completely normal reaction, you set yourself up for success. It’s also helpful to have a plan in place for when culture shock hits.

One way to deal with it is to immerse yourself in the customs of your host country and ask your host family any questions you may have. The more you understand about the culture, the more comfortable you may feel performing the country’s traditions.

It’s also normal to feel homesick while abroad. If you find yourself yearning for your own home, you should find a few things that remind you of it. For example, try surrounding yourself with family photos, or setting up regular Skype chats with friends and family back home. Asking your host family to cook your favorite dish can also help, though you might need to provide the recipe!



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