From Our Teen Readers
September 25, 2015 9:31 am

Ever since I was tiny, I have always daydreamed of discovering other worlds and traveling to strange and exciting places, be it through books, movies or real-life travel. After many years of waiting (I assure you, my 11-year-old self was extremely frustrated that she would have to wait a whole four years to go on exchange), I have finally planned my exchange and I am going to France for five months this year! Picture yourself hiking through the Dolomites in Italy, making sushi in Japan, or sunbathing on a Brazilian beach? It’s time to make that dream a reality.

Planning a student exchange can seem like an extremely daunting prospect, and there are many things that you need to consider, some of which you wouldn’t even think about! I hope that after reading this article you are aware of the myriad of possibilities of student exchange and the places it can take you (metaphorically and literally!) Maybe you’ll even be inspired to plan an exchange of your own.

There are way more things to consider than you’d imagine…

Once you’ve decided you’re going to go on exchange, there are a few more things to decide upon. First of all, where are you going to travel? Do you want to go to a country whose language you share, with a culture similar to your own, or will you take the leap and try a new language? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of mastering the art of calligraphy or have a passion for tango and salsa. Whatever it is that inspires you, chase after it!

In addition to location, you also will need to figure out is how long you want to go on exchange for and if you are going to go through an exchange company or plan your experience privately. An exchange company will sort out everything like flights, insurance and your host family for you, and although their fees are (mostly) pretty reasonable for what you are getting, you can always choose to find your own host family. Most exchange companies offer a pretty big range of stays in your host country, from a short 6-week taste right through to a one year exchange, and you can choose the option of having an exchange student stay with you, if you don’t want to travel yourself. An exchange is a huge commitment, (and one that you will need to negotiate with your school and/or workplace) but it will be 100% worth it, trust me.

Start saving!

I think they’re totally worth the investment, but exchanges are quite pricey. Don’t give up hope quite yet though, my little budding traveler, because as long as you plan early enough to start saving, your goal is achievable. If you already have, or can get, a job, that’s a great way to start saving. Put some money aside every week in a separate savings account for your exchange that you won’t take money out of. If you are going through an exchange company, there are lots of scholarship and discount opportunities, and once you get the word out that you are serious about your trip, you might get lucky and receive a few donations. Remember that you need to take into account not just the program fees, but also the money you will spend during your trip for things like clothes, extracurricular activities and food. I’d advise taking at least $200-500, depending on where you are going.

Consider the language 

If there’s somewhere you’re dying to go, but you have no idea how to speak the language, never fear! If you ask around and do some research, there are probably classes somewhere nearby at a language school or recreation center, or you can even find a tutor. Another option is to DIY and buy (or borrow from the library!) a book or audio book — audio books are great because you can listen to them in the car or put them on your phone to listen to when you have a spare moment. There are also some excellent online (free!) courses you can take. Duolingo is the language website that I use to learn French, and IT IS AMAZING. If all else fails, know that even if you’re on the plane on your way to your exchange and fretting about the language, once you are surrounded by people speaking it 24/7, it will be easier to pick it up. In no time you’ll be sayonara-ing and saying gracias like a local! 

Immerse yourself in the culture

You can start traveling before you even leave home! There are virtually limitless resources to discover, whether it’s French hip-hop, (which is actually pretty good, just saying) Greek mythology or vintage Singaporean films (subtitles will literally become your new best friend). The Internet is a treasure trove for this kind of stuff, and don’t underestimate your local library’s language and travel sections. Make sure you also educate yourself on both the current events and the history of the country you are planning on living in, as well as your own country, because people will be asking you a ton of questions about what your life is like back home and expecting you to contribute to the conversation.

Take the plunge and just do it.

Although it’s going to take a lot of work and commitment, participating in an exchange will create memories that you’re going to look back on for a long time. In this case, the old cliché “follow your dreams” couldn’t be truer. Be brave, be bold, and be adventurous. Take that risk, leap outside of your comfort zone and who knows- you could have the journey of a lifetime! Your future is entirely up to you. Make it yours.

(Image via iStock.)

Milly is a South Australian high schooler with a strong passion for human rights, music, fashion, and the color red. She plans to travel the whole entire world one day in the distant future, but for now she is content to see the world from the comfort of her laptop. You can follow her on Tumblr,Polyvore, and Pinterest.

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