Over the years, I have met probably a thousand exchange students. 90% of them have been amazing young people, but some really should not have been sent abroad. Some of them had a really horrible exchange year, and they were thrilled to leave their new country and go home. Some chose to leave voluntarily before the year was over. Some were sent home. Some of them managed to get through the challenges and salvage their year.
Here are some of the strategies these students employed to ensure they had a year they have been grumbling about ever since. Of course, most of these students blamed everyone but themselves for their horrible experience.
1. Go on exchange to escape troubles at home. Leave to escape SATs. Leave boyfriend problems. Leave to avoid college decisions or family problems. Believe it or not, your issues will just follow you. You can’t escape. Deal with your issues before you apply to go on exchange.
2. Go on exchange to become a celebrity. While it is true that you may be highly recognizable in your new town, you may not be admired. Your home and host countries might be in political dispute, as when Canada seized Spanish fishing boats they claimed were illegally fishing on The Grand Banks. Your religious background might be unpopular in your host country. Your ethnicity might make you a target, like it was for the Indo-Canadian student in Germany presumed to be a Turk and bullied in the streets and refused service in restaurants.
3. Be afraid of or be overwhelmed by your host culture. If you are not willing to face crowds, language, smells, religion, attitudes, and ideas that are different from your own, you’re not going to be able to handle the stress of being an exchange student.
4. Be shy. Avoid talking to people. Don’t make friends at school. Hide in your bedroom and don’t socialize with your host family. Don’t attend Rotary meetings. If you do, don’t talk to the Rotarians. Stare at the floor a lot.
5. Insult people. Take your nationalism to extreme. Make sure that everyone knows where you are from and that your home country is MUCH better than your host country. Explain how they are stupid, backward, or ignorant in your host country.
6. Borrow money. Whenever you go out, whether with host families, school friends, or other exchange students, make it a point to leave your wallet at home, and ask others to pay for you. Never pay them back. This is particularly effective when people learn that you are receiving several hundred dollars of spending money every month from home.
7. Lie. Pretend you are going to school when you aren’t. Claim you’re making lots of friends when you’re in your room on the computer all day. Tell your family you’re with friends, but go to a bush party, get drunk, and then get in a car accident. While in the hospital, keep telling people you weren’t drinking at a party… (These students were sent home , one with a broken neck and severe brain damage).
8. Moon over your boy/girlfriend back home. Spend all your time on the phone or sending email messages to your love back home. Neglect making friends and participating in events so you don’t miss chat/call opportunities. If you don’t believe either of you are mature enough to handle separation without daily contact, you are probably not mature enough to be on exchange.
9. Be a snob. Whether because of insecurity, inferiority or actual narcisism, some students behave as if they are much better than those in their new community. Show this by refusing to do chores your host family assigns, refusing to help in Rotary service projects, or refusing to attend functions. You can also show this with a bored or uninterested attitude when you do deign to attend an event or by talking about yourself and never showing any interest in others’ interests or opinions.
10. Never spend a night away from home before the exchange. The trauma of homesickness from kids from tightly emeshed homes almost always ensures the kids are home within a month of their arrival in the new country. Your mother will probably be thrilled to have you back, tied to her apron where you belong.
11. Be disrespectful to your host mom. The most important person for you to impress is your host mom. She is the power behind the home. If she likes you, you will be eating your favourite foods, going to special places, and receiving gifts for years. If she dislikes you, well, let’s just say that you will probably be very uncomfortable.
12. Whine a lot and complain about your treatment by school mates, family and other exchange students. If it seems to be a universal opinion, consider that perhaps you aren’t very likeable. Study points 1-10 above and determine what you need to change about yourself.
Be aware: If you aren’t usually so obnoxious in your home country, the manifestation of a few of the above points may indicate that you are suffering from culture shock. Please speak to your club exchange counselor. If s/he can’t help, speak to the district exchange officer. If you address the issues early enough, you can turn your horrendous time into a wonderful, enriching exchange. It’s not the host family, your club, or your circumstances that create a great year. Your attitude is the most important thing, so if you find yourself having problems, decide what YOU can change to improve the situation.
PS. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that more than a few of the points above applied to my own exchange year. I think I had a great year abroad, but like everyone, I had some things I could have done better in order to have had an even better experience.
Rotary is amazing August 12, 2010
Tags: exchange student, Group Study Exchange, Rotary, Rotary World Peace Fellow, Rotary Youth Exchange, study abroad, youth exchange
Once again at our weekly Rotary meeting, I was struck by how this organization is amazing in the scope of its vision and in the power of its members to make the vision reality. We had two guests, a Rotarian from Calgary, and a pop in visit by a Past District Governer from Kenya. How cool is that? Kenya. A few weeks ago we had Rotarian guests from Finland and from the Philippines. It is astonishing how wide our world is, and how interesting Rotarians are all over the place!
We had a typical summer meeting. About half the club was away and our guest speaker had canceled on us a couple days before. A few quick calls had been made to our outbound exchange student and a former exchange student to Malaysia who was in town from university. Both of them gave us some time, and our meeting was quite delightful and inspiring. It is a shame that only 11 of us got to experience the inspiration!
Many clubs sponsor the Youth Exchange program and believe in its power to improve the world, one young person at a time. Last night that was very powerfully illustrated to me, and I think our outbound Maddie (who is off to Argentina this weekend) and her father were quite amazed by the possibilities of the journey she is embarking upon when they heard Chad Shipmaker speak.
Chad remarked to me at dinner that Rotary owns him. It is certainly no doubt that this organization changed his life, though he is an impressive young man in his own right, and would have found a way to change the world without us, I’m sure. I am just really glad that we have been involved, because we get to have some familial pride in his accomplishments. After his time as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Malaysia, Chad returned home to do a Bachelor’s degree at University of Victoria. He worked in Africa for awhile in development work. He was home working here when Rotary came into his life again.
Although many clubs participate in Youth Exchange, many fewer sponsor Group Study Exchange candidates. Due in no small part to the efforts of Lynda Wilson, our current club president who was formerly on the GSE District committee while she was Dean of Okanagan College, our club regularly sponsors GSE applicants, and quite frequently our applicants are chosen by the district to join the team. Chad Shipmaker was chosen as a member on a team that went to Chile. Back on our radar, we started keeping a closer eye on him.
Soon after, he decided to do his master’s degree and applied to be a Peace scholar. Our club proposed him. The district agreed with our nomination and forwarded his application to Rotary International. Rotary International was as impressed as we have been, and so this last year Chad has been studying at the Duke Centre for International Development in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is “Fellow, Master of International Development Policy” and “Rotary World Peace Fellow.” Even the titles sound impressive. Just wait until you find out what he’s learning!
As I listened to Chad’s awe over the people he’s meeting, the speakers he’s hearing, and the work he’s been doing at the World Food Agency in DC, I can’t help but be inspired. Chad is just one amazing alumni of our Rotary Youth Exchange program. Not all RYE students are going to end up doing things quite as amazing as Chad, but we are in good company when we support the organization that gives us all the opportunities to change the world through the skills honed and polished through involvement with Rotary.
Vision and the power to make it so. Wow.
Rotary is awesome.
PS. Stay tuned for another blog on the amazing accomplishments of Chad Shipmaker, coming soon to this space!