Today, with the click of a button, we can watch an American television show, do a quick Google search about food habits in Eastern Europe, or video-call our friends in Australia. This increased connectivity and exposure to the global community has made it easier to communicate with and understand people from different cultures. Although interacting with individuals is vastly different from studying a culture in entirety, it sparks a curiosity about the world beyond our hometown, and instils a desire to travel, explore and learn.
Looking to give their students this kind of cultural exposure, schools are now increasingly offering student exchange programmes. The ones who choose to participate, automatically get the opportunity to learn in a completely new educational environment, which opens their minds to new cultures and customs.
Typically, exchange programmes vary in length from one-month long to several years. These can also be within a country or outside it. No matter the duration or location, these programmes offer students unique benefits that a local academic experience may not be able to.
The main reason most people choose exchange programmes is because it gives students a firsthand experience of a new culture. Complete immersion allows them to understand an unfamiliar way of life in a manner that only natives would have access to, making it more memorable than simply studying about it. This has the added benefit of improving a student’s general knowledge, and increases empathy towards people of different ethnicities. In addition, based on where the program takes place, students can even practice a language they have been taught or learn a new one altogether.
By allowing students to dive into new surroundings, an exchange programme gives these young adults the chance to push themselves out of their comfort zone, face new emotional and logistical challenges, and explore themselves as individuals. It also teaches them how to cope with change, and gives them an unshakeable sense of self-worth — life-skills that benefit them in all situations. Since students usually stay with host families, dorms provided by the institution or other student accommodation, it allows them to interact with the locals. The bonds thus formed tend to last well beyond the end of the programme. They can also be useful if the student chooses to apply for a job in the host city or country once their studies are over.
In addition to being an enriching academic experience, exchange programmes provide students with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For those who participate in these exchanges, it becomes the stepping stone to further foreign education or international job opportunities. Even if the student chooses not to pursue a career in the country of exchange, employers tend to look favourably upon candidates who have this kind of exposure, giving them an advantage over other candidates.
Any endeavour of such a large scale comes with its own set of positives and negatives. Therefore, it is important to be prepared for what may occur during such a programme. This can include adapting to extreme weather conditions, adjusting to unique cultural differences and succumbing to homesickness. While most gear up for physical and cultural conditions, mental preparation is equally vital. This leads to a more enriching experience, since learning to overcome challenges is an essential life skill for people of any age.
Here are some additional pointers that students must keep in mind:
- Ensure that you know the local language, or choose a location where English is spoken
- Adequate finances are a must, although there are several sponsorship programmes and scholarships available
- Keep track of timelines, as most programmes require you to apply well in advance
- Choose the duration that works best for you — short programmes are more affordable, whereas longer ones offer more exposure
Although it seems like a daunting prospect, exchange programmes give students experiences that stay with them for a lifetime. Adequate preparation enables a seamless and enriching experience, giving a unique glimpse into a new way of life. As a result, it creates well-rounded individuals, turns young learners into mature adults and ensures they emerge as true citizens of the world.