It’s coming to the time of year to sign up for exchange programs. Making the decision to spend a year travelling may be tough, but I will lay out why I think it is in your best interest, and the interest of the world, for you to take a year from your education and experience the world. Mark my words– exchange will be the hardest year of your life; however, exchange will also be the most fulfilling, engaging, adventurous and enjoyable year of your life to date. In no particular order, here’s why I believe you should become an exchange student.
Meet new friends
As an exchange student, you will spend your days, the best and worst with the other exchange students in your area. Through the ups and downs, they will be by your side. Since you experience everything together, you will become like a family, developing a friend network that stretches the globe! You will have a friend to visit, a local tour guide, and a couch to sleep on nearly anywhere you go. The relationships that I developed with my closest friends while on exchange are ones that I am positive will last a lifetime. I miss the days when I was able to see them every day, but I know that they will always be there for me.
Learn a new Language
A year may not seem like enough to time to learn a language. However, speaking that language all day, every day will give you skills you would’ve thought impossible! You will be surprised how quickly you learn when you are surrounded by your host country’s language in all aspects of life. Everywhere you look, from TV and radio to the newspapers will saturate you with the new language. Coming home after exchange, you will can add your new skills to resume. Any employer will see the value in your ability to speak a foreign language. For me, learning Mandarin was a challenge, but my efforts to learn the language allowed me to better integrate into the life of Taiwan. I felt confident to explore, knowing that I could ask for help, order food, read a transit sign when the need arose.
See a new culture
The opportunity to live in a foreign culture, truly immersed in the way of life, is one which you will cherish for the rest of your life. In Taiwan, my eyes were opened by the unique asian culture, which contrasted greatly my own values and ideas that I brought from Canada. Seeing the beautiful temples interspersed within the city, experiencing the strict education system, and walking through the bustling night markets were all new experiences for me, ones which I wouldn’t give up for anything. Sometimes, however, it was the tiniest things that seemed the most foreign. For example, when I first moved to a new host family, they found it extremely weird that I showered in the morning before school, rather than before bed. It was the tiniest thing, but showed how even the smallest decision and norm in daily life could be so different for others. In addition, experiencing the culture of other exchange students will open your mind to the world. Hearing their stories, listening to their music, and spending time with them will give you a glimpse into the way people of their culture act.
Push Your Boundaries
Exchange is not a year long vacation. In fact, exchange might be one of the most difficult years of your life. For that reason alone, you should go on exchange. The challenges that you face over the course of your time abroad will make you mature far beyond your age. Coming home, you will have the confidence to tackle any problem, because you already know that you’ve conquered the world.
Through the difficulties you face, the people you meet, and the time to reflect, exchange will clarify your views on the world. You will gain a greater understanding of what you stand for, the kind of person you wish to become, and what you are passionate about. Many exchange students discover what they want to study in university during their time abroad!
How could anyone forget the incredible food! No matter where you go, you will discover a incredible array of new food. Every exchange student knows about the weight gain! For me in Taiwan, some of my favourites included bubble tea, beef noodle soup, fried dumplings, and mango ice.
For your future
Participating in an exchange program is hands down one of the best things you can do for you future. Employers and schools understand the rigours that exchange students go through during their time abroad, and award them accordingly. Past exchange students are more likely to win scholarships and awards. Additionally, the self-confidence gained will allow you to pursue more challenges in your future.
A New Family (or three!)
The opportunity to live with host families during your time as an exchange student is one of the most valuable aspects of the program. You become fully immersed in the culture, eating meals, speaking the language, and interacting on a daily basis with your new family. If you are lucky, the families you live with may even take you on family vacations to show you different parts of the country, or even other countries. I was incredibly fortunate to live with great families during my exchange. They pushed me to succeed, showed me the culture and food of the Taiwanese, and took me on numerous trips to other areas in Taiwan and even to Japan. I know that the relationships that I fostered with them will stay strong for the years to come.
After a year spent in a foreign country with new families, a new school, and friends from around the world, your perspective on global issues will change drastically. Your ideas of what it means to be a member of the human race will be shifted. You become an ambassador, not just for yourself and your country, but also for your new country. Exchange kills stereotypes— In the future, your interactions with people from around the world will guide your thoughts to remember “One of my best friends came from that country, and they were just a normal person like me”.
Please don’t hate me for saying this. I understand that exchange is a large investment and I’m not trying to devalue the financial contributions that are necessary. However, I want you to think about it like this. When is the next time in your life that you can travel for a year for less than $10,000? You and I both know the answer to that question is never. What makes the price possible is the incredible contributions by Rotary and the host families. They understand the value of such program and the incredible people that it produces. Without the contributions and efforts of Rotary to push the youth exchange program forward, thousands of students per year would lose the opportunity to experience the world.
Exchange has impacted me in more ways than I can express in a blog post. I am a better person because of the experience. I urge you with all the power I have to consider participating in the Rotary Youth Exchange, not only for yourself but also for the improvement of the world. The skills you develop, the friends you make, and the personal growth you will undertake will impact you for the rest of your life!
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