Should You Send Your Child on a Foreign Exchange Program?

During my oldest son’s last year of middle school, we started planning on which high school he wanted to attend. He didn’t go to private school, but there were several academies available (11 in total). Learning new languages and studying different cultures in the world was something that he was passionate about. With that being said, he decided on the Global Studies and World Languages Academy, and was accepted into their program.

A week before he began his Freshman year of high school there was an information session on the academy’s expectations. At the end of the session, a current senior got up and spoke about his experience with the school, and how he participated in a foreign exchange program. At that moment, I remember internally freaking. I was thinking that there was absolutely no way that I was going to send my almost 15-year-old off to another country to live temporarily with a family that I didn’t know. It just wasn’t going to happen.

A few months later our son came home from school explaining to his father and I that there were scholarships available for a summer exchange program in Japan. He was taking Japanese in school, and a coordinator from Youth For Understanding came in to talk to them about it. We wanted our children to experience the world, so I didn’t want to hold him back. We told him to go ahead and complete the application process, and I did some research to ease my mind.

I believe it was around April when I found a packet in the mail addressed to my son from Youth For Understanding. I was so nervous (but in a good way) about whether or not he earned the scholarship. I couldn’t wait to pick him up from school to hand him the envelope. It was the news he had been waiting for, he got accepted and was going to stay with a family in Japan for 6 weeks! My husband and I were so proud and excited for him!

I wanted to write this post to help ease other parent’s minds about giving their child an experience of a lifetime. Here are the reasons that I recommend allowing your child to study abroad for either a summer or year:

Learn Cultural Differences

They get to experience the values, beliefs, and lifestyle of a family from another culture. It gives them an open mind to learn that “their way” isn’t the “only way” in life, and that it doesn’t make it wrong or right. Their experience allows them to educate their peers on the acceptance of cultural differences.

Experience New Foods

They get to experience all of the different foods from another country. Being from America, our son couldn’t get over how small the serving sizes were in Japan, or I suppose how big the serving sizes are in our country. He absolutely loved the cuisine in Japan and missed a lot of it when he returned home.

Develop Independence

It gives them a chance to be independent. I want to address that while I was nervous about sending my child to stay with people I didn’t know, it had nothing to do with him exploring another country. His father and I were more nervous about him losing his check card, passport, or other important documents. He was barely 15 when he left for his exchange program. Guess what? He didn’t lose a thing and he came back a more independent young man because of his experience.

Establish New Relationships

They get to meet amazing people that embrace them as part of the family. We are extremely grateful that our son’s host family wanted to share all that they could with him during his 6-week visit. Not just about their family, but about the beauty of their country as well. The sole purpose of an exchange program is to be a part of a family to learn about and understand their culture. Host families are not required (or supposed) to treat your child like they are on vacation. We truly appreciated all that his host family did for him out of the kindness of their heart.

The relationship that they develop with their host family can last throughout their life. Several years after our son graduated from high school, his host family contacted him and wanted him to join them on a trip to New York. He was extremely excited, and enjoyed showing them around and helping them translate English.

Explore a New School

He also got the chance to attend school in Japan. By doing so he was able to learn about the different teaching styles compared to his home country. He also got to interact with many students close to his age.

A Once in a Life Time Experience

It’s a once in a lifetime experience. As adults we always have the opportunity to travel around the world; but not in a way where you get to be a part of a family, and truly embrace the culture with the people that live there.

Promotes Cultural Curiosity

It opens their eyes to wanting to explore more of the world. The year after he returned from Japan he applied for another scholarship with a different exchange program, and was awarded a 2-week trip to South Korea, which he visited during the summer of his Sophomore year of high school. During his Senior year of his undergrad studies, he completed a semester in Spain and also visited many places along the way (London, Morocco, Iceland). While my husband and I have not been to Japan, Korea, or Spain (and we are a little jealous), he has taught us a lot about his experiences. His influences even caused us to share our culture with others as well, and we have hosted students from Japan and Denmark.

Our Recommendation

Giving our son the opportunity to explore other cultures has been one of the best decisions that we have made. We don’t have any regrets whatsoever, and we highly recommend using Youth For Understanding to find a foreign exchange program that interests your child. If you are considering sending your child on a foreign exchange program and have any questions, please post them in the comments below.

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  1. Josy A October 26, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Yaaaay! It is really interesting to hear this from a mum’s point of view. I did Japanese in high school and then went there for 6 months before university (to volunteer as an assistant language teacher) it TOTALLY changed my life. Like your son, I am still friends with the host families I lived with. 🙂

    My previous job was promoting Japanese language education (for schools in the UK) and I always loved chatting to kids who’d been on exchanges. It always seems to help their other studies and make them more open to the world.

    p.s. Has your son looked at the JET program after her graduates? If his Japanese is still good, the CIR position might really suit him!

    1. Michele Duncan October 28, 2019 at 1:33 pm

      Yes! When I was researching information on exchange programs I only found write ups from students who attended exchange programs. I was really looking for articles from the parents. It was the best decision that we made. Thank you for letting me know about the JET program. I will definitely let him know about it.

  2. Bliss Eatts October 26, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    This is such a cool idea. I wish I’d been brave enough to do this when I was in school.

    1. Michele Duncan October 28, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      After his experience I also wished I would have been brave enough to go on an exchange program.

  3. Emma October 26, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    I think this is such a unique experience that all kids should get the chance to do. It was the norm in Europe where I grew up. My school in the UK did an exchange with a school in Germany and I took part twice. I also did a Danish exchange in high school. Valuable experience learning about other cultures. Cannot recommend it enough

    1. Michele Duncan October 28, 2019 at 1:28 pm

      I completely agree with you that all kids should get the change to do it. We have learned so much about other cultures from him, as well as from the exchange students that we have hosted.

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