It has now been about a year and a half since I returned from my year abroad and I thought I would share some advice for you guys. If you are going to be an exchange student in the future, I suggest keeping these things in mind. I was an exchange student in Texas, USA and these are my own personal experiences. I hope you like my advice!
Don’t have any expectations
This one is really hard. It is mostly for before leaving for your exchange year. Try not to create scenarios or expectations of how it is going to be. I know this is super hard but having expectations might cause disappointment. Just take one day at a time and just go with it. If you don't have any expectations, you can only be happily surprised.
Don’t compare your host family to others
This wasn't really something that I dealt a lot with. My host family was great, but sometimes when you miss home or if your host family annoys you, you might start comparing them to other families. But for your own good, please don't. Your family is doing everything they can to make you a part of their family, even though they might not be like your family at home. Try to really make the best out of the situation and tell yourself "these people took me in, and I am going to try to live by their rules and their way of doing things". This will make everything a lot better. Comparing yourself to anyone makes you feel down and upset and the same goes for your host family.
Be open for new rules
This kind of goes along with the previous tip. Your host family might do things differently than your family at home and they might have rules that you are not used to. Maybe you have curfews, maybe you're not allowed to close your door when friends are over or maybe you have to eat dinner at a certain time. No matter what, please respect your host family's rules. They take on a huge responsibility by taking care of you and they want you to be safe. You don't want to be disrespectful, and showing that you can follow the rules might end up giving you more freedom.
Stay active and involved!
This is one of the tips, you'll probably hear the most before you become an exchange student. And that is because it is so important. I personally wish I would have been more involved the first semester. It doesn't really matter if you're playing volleyball, if you're in the musical, if you're competing in current events or something else. Just being involved in the school creates friendships and memories that you will appreciate when you return home. I also believe that it makes you more open and outgoing. Definitely, join a club or a team - even if you don't feel like you are great at it. Just have fun with it and remember that you only have one year - might as well make the best out of it, right?
Focus on the social life
For me, school has always been important. And of course, I felt the same way while I was on exchange. I had to keep a certain average but I was a straight-A student. I spent hours and hours on homework and I really tried my hardest. But to be honest, I don't think that was necessary at all. Of course, you don't want to slack all year, but the grades do not count once you return back home. At least they didn't for me. And if I could change something, I would spend more time on being social and less time on school-work.
Know the rules
I kind of touched on this earlier. But as well as your host family has rules, so does your school and state/country. For example, we don't have a certain dress-code in Denmark. So not being able to show my shoulders was new to me. This wasn't a huge problem or anything, but you need to know the rules to be able to follow them. The same goes for state/country laws. The drinking age is different as well, and while drinking and partying was a big part of my social life before traveling to America, I did not touch alcohol that year. Your exchange-program may also have certain rules that you need to follow. I know mine had 3 main ones; No drinking, no driving, no drugs and no sex. And then there was a lot of other minor rules. If you get caught not following these rules you may be on a plane home the following day.
Always say ‘yes’
Anytime someone asks you to do something say yes! (as long as it is within the rules of course). Your host family asks you to go grocery shopping? Say yes. Your friends ask you to go to the football game? Say yes. Going out, leaving the house always creates small memories and sometimes it's fun just go do stuff. Sometimes people you barely know might ask you to hang out or go with them to the mall.. Just go with it. Who knows? You might be making life-long friendships.
Ask, ask, ask
If there is something you don’t understand, go ahead and ask! This may seem very obvious but often we don’t ask because we don’t want to look stupid. But I promise you, people won’t think that you are stupid. So, whether it is school related, something about the new language or rules at your house, just ask questions. People appreciate it and will think that you are curious and willing to learn.
Say please and thank you
This was something I had to think about a lot when I was an exchange student. In Denmark, we don’t say please and thank you nearly as much as they do in America, just as we don’t say sir or ma’am to adults. So always try to say please and thank you to show your appreciation. Your host family is taking you in as a part of their family and they are doing you a huge favor, so please remember this. Thank you.
Don’t spend too much time at “home”
As crucial it is to stay in touch with your friends and family at home as important is it not to spend too much time skyping or texting them. Try to live your life and make your "host home" a second home. Talking to your family is not always the greatest idea when you're feeling homesick. Instead, I suggest you talk to your host family or friends about it, and maybe ask them to go do stuff so that you can get your mind off your homesickness.