Around the World


Marie Hawwa and Synne Berg

In today’s world, teenagers have a lot of responsibilities and obligations. Imagine adding to those by being an exchange student, surrounded by new people, a new culture, and a new language. It takes courage and a strong will to gain a new experience at this young age that drives students from around the world to travel and leave behind their friends and family. Although it is difficult to overcome the obstacles, this experience allows teenagers to see the world through a different lense and gain new perspectives. The benefits of participating in an exchange program greatly outweigh the risks!

This journey is a life changing experience, often accompanied with many ups and downs that eventually turn into unforgettable lessons and memories. While exploring cultures and languages, hidden underneath virtual stereotypes, exchange students take the lead and find diverse and unique ways to start building social relations with their host families and the new community that surrounds them. Dzan Zurdum, a senior exchange student from Bosnia at Ipswich High School, states that, “completely changing your surroundings from what you were used to” was one of the difficulties he faced when he first came to Ipswich.  He adds, “My experience not only met with my expectations, it surpassed them.”

Teenagers tend to be interested in being part of this program due to their curiosity and their willingness to break the wall that stands between nations, but the difference in languages and traditions seem to hold them back. When asked about his opinion on this matter, Dzan addressed those thinking about studying abroad, either in high school or in college, by arguing that students should, “most definitely go for it; it’s a wonderful experience and it’s a great way to build up connections internationally. It’s a great way to understand the world and the different cultures around you.”

This experience can be as equally interesting and captivating to the student as well as the host family. Parents typically strive to share their roots and their passion in an attempt to give a better understanding of their lifestyle and their traditions. Similarly, host siblings create a bridge allowing exchange students to interact and meet with new people.

Last year, Ipswich High School senior Matt Collyer hosted Nick, an exchange student from Malta. Matt thought it was interesting to witness the development of someone who had been recently introduced to a new culture and a whole different world. Although they knew each other before they lived together, their relationship grew stronger as they lived together as brothers, and they both faced difficulties trying to adjust to their new life styles. He would advise anyone interested in hosting an exchange student to “put thought into it before going through with it” and “set guidelines early, so that the rules are clear.” But, even though it’s a lot of responsibility, he adds, “it’s overall a fun and positive experience.”

Being an exchange student in any country can be a once in a lifetime experience for some people, while others view traveling and change as a way of comfort and an opportunity to get a fresh start and a new beginning. Either way, this voyage is a chance to get a glimpse of the hidden gems and get us prepared for more obstacles and difficulties that we will face as we go on to explore our path.

As a foreign exchange student myself, Synne Berg from Norway, I would recommend anyone who is adventurous and open to study abroad. Personally, it has changed my life and it made me realize things I would never have thought of. I spent the first school semester in California and got friends for life. Unfortunately, I was placed in host families that no one should’ve been and got an opportunity to move to the other side of the country – to Massachusetts. That decision is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have met amazing people, and I could not be more thankful for my host family, who I refer to as my second family.

Every piece of my journey so far has made me grow stronger as a person. It has made me more independent, outgoing, and brave. Also, my English has improved a lot. I have seen and experienced things I would never want to be without. Best of all, I have made friends who I will have for the rest of my life, and got an American family that will forever be my second family. Overall, it has made me a better version of myself.

Being an exchange student is hard and challenging, but when you overcome your fears, life has never been better. You can compare it to gambling; you never know for sure what you are coming to. However, it is also your job to make the best out of what you get. The risk of not enjoying your host family or school is there, but most exchange students end up having the time of their life. You will also feel homesick a lot of times, but your friends and family home will still be there when you return. The ups will always outweigh the downs. Remember, you are the one that has to adjust to the culture and to the people in your host country, not opposite. My best advice is to be yourself, say yes and be open to everything, and to not let fear hold you back. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Almost anyone from age 15-19 can be an exchange student, if you are healthy and can afford it. There are lots of programs and companies to sign up with if you want to become an exchange student. At the school’s website you can find a link to Rotary, which is a great company due to low prices and lots of choices of where to go. It all depends on your wants. The cost of being an exchange student depends on which company you choose, but most importantly, which program you choose. There are companies that allow you to pay more, in order to receive privileges such as deciding exactly where you want to go, and exact school/school district you want to attend in your host country. If it does not matter that much for you where you will get placed, or you just want to be surprised, you can do that as well, and pay the “normal” price. The first thing I recommend is to find out is what classes you need in order to get your year abroad accepted, unless you want to retake it when you get home. Personally, I have one more year of high school when I go back to my home country, so my exchange year is my junior year. How it works for me is that my counselor in my home country knows exactly what classes I am taking and they are as similar as possible to the ones I would have taken if I did not study abroad.

School when you’re an exchange student works exactly like school at home; you go to school every day and you get homework and assignments. Most countries do not have sports programs like they do in the U.S., but your organization will offer trips and other fun activities you can sign up for in your host country. You can always do a sport outside of school as well. If the language is a barrier, teachers and the school will help you and can make special arrangements just for you.

The next step should be to do some research online. Find out which companies you can choose from. Then, you sign up for a meeting with the companies you think will meet your wishes and find out which has the best offers. It is a long process, but it is definitely worth it, and something you will take with you for the rest of your life.