What does it take to be an outbound exchange student?

International travel is a great opportunity for youth to experience new cultures and be more globally connected.

2018 outbound eight-week Japan delegation from the United States
2018 outbound eight-week Japan delegation from the United States. Photo by D'Ann Rohrer, MSU Extension.

Eleven Michigan youth are preparing to travel to Japan, Finland, Costa Rica and Korea for four to eight weeks during the summer of 2019. What qualities should a candidate possess to travel abroad at such a young age? Many organizations offer opportunities for high school or college-aged youth to study abroad, but States’ 4-H International Exchange offers younger teens an opportunity to travel for one month.

What qualities should a young teen have to experience success abroad? Most youth are naturally curious, flexible and positive, which are important qualities to have while in another country. It is great to ask questions while you are exploring another culture. Asking questions will show your host family you are interested in learning about their way of life and their country. Being flexible is a must since your host family’s routine will be different than your own routine in your home country. Be willing to adjust to your host family’s daily schedule as they should not be expected to adjust to yours.

Positivity is important. Even if things don’t go as planned, always find the good points in each activity or experience while in another country, as this may be your only opportunity to visit this country.

There might be qualities that a young teen isn’t as proficient with that will help them achieve success. If the youth are at least aware of these qualities and realize they need to grow in this area, they will have more success. The qualities could be communication skills, knowledge of their own culture or self, and coping skills.

Communication skills while in another country with people who speak a different language is high priority. Youth soon realize how valuable their childhood game of charades can be in helping with communication. With that said, most countries teach their children English, so there is usually someone nearby who can help, but it is also important to try and communicate with your host family. Trying to speak their language and acting things out can bring many laughs and grow the bond between you and your host family.

Through this experience, young teens’ awareness of their own culture and self will be heightened. When one is immersed in another culture, they are suddenly aware of their own culture. This is one of the unexpected growth areas for young travelers.

The most important quality a new traveler needs to be aware of is coping skills. Traveling abroad may be their first time away from parents or family for an extended period of time. How will you cope when you feel lonely, homesick, scared or insecure? According to “Study Abroad.com How to deal with homesickness," there are a few remedies to prevent homesickness: always stay busy, get involved in clubs, sports teams or friend groups and look forward to what is ahead. The young teen could try creative self-talk. What we think or tell ourselves influences what we feel, so say to yourself, “I’m only here for 20 more days, I can do this.” Keep a positive attitude and always look on the bright side of all situations.

Another suggestion is make new friends. If you are sad and just want to be alone, try instead to be with people and make a new friend. Lastly, enjoy your time alone, read a book, exercise or journal about your experience.

Traveling abroad as a young teen is an amazing experience that will be remembered for years to follow. Harness the opportunity and make the best of every situation. You will not regret your decision to go and you will be amazed how life changing it will be.

4-H grows global and cultural youth. If you would like to learn more about 4-H International Exchange Programs, visit the Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs page or contact me at drohrer@anr.msu.edu

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2018 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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