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Who is really suited for student exchange? A view from a German hostmother

Some are worried, others arent. To think about whether you are the right person to go abroad, living in a new family for one year is important. But what do the people think that have to live with you!

“I became very interested when I read the article about ‘Who is really suited for student exchange?’. As a mother of two daughters I am confronted with a lot of their problems. However, I have also made very close experiences with student exchange myself.

I used to be a host mother and I am going to be one again this summer. Last year
I hosted a Columbian girl for three months and at the moment I (I should rather say WE) live together with a girl from New Zealand who will be staying with us for a year. So I want to let you know about the view of a well-informed host mother.

Bartram Eignung 2Both of my gaughters together with Elisabet - our columbian exchange student.


Independence – of course!

We have found out that independence is not just an important, but also a necessary part of a successful exchange year. Especially the youth from South America seems to be raised with less independence than e.g. German teenagers. We had quite trouble to introduce our Columbian exchange student to become more independent.

She had to go to school by train, had to watch the time-schedule by herself. Still, she had never washed her clothes by herself – about 50% of her laundry had to be washed manually only…., she had never made her own breakfast for school and had never been in a large town like Hamburg just by herself. Maybe as a result of this lack of independence her purse got stolen in the train – including her passport,train-ticket, insurance proof,…

Of course this may happen to everyone but she wasn’t used to this situation. She had been walking around with an open bag. Easy deal, for even a teenagerknows that you got to put an eye on it. She was sitting near the tracks and didn’t do anything. My little! daughter who was with her had to play “mother”.

These were a few examples, just to name the most extreme. It seems to me that the youth from New Zealand, e.g. our current exchange student, is apparently more independent. After three days we got to know each other; everything was running without any problem.

But: independence can lead to a form where the family is not asked about decisions. So we always got the opportunity to criticize an action after it happened. It had to be clarified what is ‘allowed’ or ‘usual’ and vice versa. That is not just irritating for us; it also does not, but it also does not give the exchange student a good feeling!

Bartram Eignung 5My daughters.


Adaptation – please!

Many things are new – many things are different for the exchange student. Theability to observe the course of events, how things are done, to get background information is the requirement for a successful integration.

This aspect has also faced us with huge differences. Observation also means to reduce and put yourself into the background. You should not draw attentzion on yourself, but be patient and adapt.

If somebody goes abroad, an attitude like: ‘ I’m very special because I am from very far away!’ can’t be helpful. So you are not able to be the silent observer. It also means that, the the student lacks the awareness of the things that are new, that ar different. That will create difficulties he or she neither understands nor will be able to explain and solve.

This is what integration into a family means to me. The same is for school andfriends.

Bartram Eignung 3Trine, our exchange student from New Zealand, together with our youngest


Openness – sure!

Openness not only means to be open for new things. It also is means to let goof the culture and socialization you were exposed to up to point you entered the plane. It is a mistake to constantly compare the customs of your home country with the ones of your host country. The host country will, by definition, always come n second place.

Every exchange student should be aware that he brought himself intothe situation where he does not know anything! No nothing, at least at first. He is on a expedition in a foreign country, in an foreign culture with unknown customs, customs he has not seen, neither experienced before. It does not matter how much he has read or heard about it, what counts is the experience.

Bartram Eignung 4Our daughters at the Easter-Fire, a tradition at our region.


To put it in a nutshell

According to our experience we consider a student suited, if he or she iscapable of being open, ready to put his own interests second, observe, and to adapt.

Independence might be good for the student and the family and the surrounding (school, friends), but I think, there are traits that are more important. The host family takes care of the new family member and this means, that he/she has to live according to the family rules. Independence alone is not enough. Each hostfamily provides the exchange student with a huge amount of trust, trust given in advance, before even knowing him. Later the family hopes to receive some of the trust and emotions in return. Not the host family has to change their life (at least not fundamentally), it has to be the exchange student.

My family and I had a very close relation to our Columbian exchange student. Although she only stayed here for three months it was very deep and still is. Even though we had to worry about her dependence more often, she integrated herself into our family and adapted to the rules. She did this even more than the girl from New Zealand. She has been staying here for three months, too, but she still feels like a ‘guest’ in our family and at her friends. And it seems she feels not comfortable with this either.


 
 
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