It has been thirty years since I was a high school exchange student to Sweden. It is an experience I remember vividly and fondly, and I highly recommend it for any student interested in travel, language, and other cultures. You can read and learn a lot from books. However, until you are immersed in the middle of a family located on another continent speaking rapidly in a different language, you do not appreciate the enormity of the world.
There are various exchange programs in operation, and my high school used Youth For Understanding (YFU). The high school and community were actively involved in the exchange program and hosted up to ten students annually. You could participate in a yearlong program, which involved school, or you could travel in a summer program with no classes.
For a student interested in language, a year in another country and school provided total language proficiency and immersion in the culture. It depends on the student’s interest and academic level. From what I remember, the students choosing the school option were challenged. The course load was rigorous and there was less time spent on extra-curricular activities.
I opted for the summer program and was hoping for a placement in France, since I was studying French. However, YFU had more students than host families and I was offered a chance to go to Sweden. Like most things in life, flexibility is key. While knowing absolutely nothing about Sweden or how to speak Swedish, I signed on for the adventure of a lifetime. Obviously, for a yearlong school program, the student must insist on placement in the country of their choice. For a summer program, the overall goal is the travel experience, so parents and students need to keep an open mind as to country choices.
YFU does an excellent job in coordinating families and placements. When one considers the responsibility and commitment of welcoming a foreign student into one’s home, it is not difficult to see how there can be a shortage of open homes. If you have a student traveling overseas, consider hosting a student in return. Not only does the student benefit, but the whole family learns about sharing one’s culture too. The exchange program allows all parties to learn.
The exchange program is not free. There is a price for learning. Fees include all travel and connections, as well as processing and coordination fees. However, as part of the child’s lifetime education, the benefits outweigh the costs. Your student will not only grow, but will have a greater appreciation for his family and country.
Sweden was an amazing country and I learned enough Swedish in one summer to get by. My family could not have been more hospitable. They lived in Bromma, outside of Stockholm. I was able to ride the train into the city and visit museums, shops, and its numerous parks. The family owned a boat and we enjoyed cruising the numerous waterways and scenery. We visited a grandmother in the Swedish countryside, and the family also took me up into the mountains of Norway.
They were generous and took great pride in showing me Sweden. The daughter, who was my age, was headed to California in the fall as a student. With me, she practiced her English, which was impeccable, and asked a lot of questions about America. I taught her some slang, and we felt like sisters by the end of the summer. Saying farewell to her, the family, and Sweden was incredibly difficult.
We kept in touch for a few years, until I went off to college and she headed to university. I always vowed I would return to Sweden, and I still plan to travel there someday. I highly recommend the exchange student experience. It opens one up to a lifetime of travel and interest in other cultures.