Do you ever wonder what it is like to spend a cultural exchange year in the United States? Greenheart Exchange sponsors hundreds of international young students every year, to come to the USA and experience living with host families! Exchange students not only learn and grow, personally; they also share their experiences back in their country which contributes to building bridges of international understanding and connects the globe! They achieve better understanding of concepts like diversity, equity, and cultural exchange and they experience new things with their host families, American high schools and communities during their exchange year. Here’s Clara, from France, telling us how her exchange experience in the United States helped her develop interpersonal and communication skills!
Hey, I’m Clara!
I’m an exchange student from France and I went to America to live « the American Dream ». It sounds cliché right, but I really enjoyed my year in the US, so I can almost call it that.
My exchange year helped me to be more independent and more confident. I never thought I would leave my mom for more than 3 months and look at me. It helped me to be more open with people, less shy, and I am proud of me. I lived in Arkansas for my exchange year, a state I didn’t know anything about. An exchange student would never pick this state because it’s not famous but I’m the happiest right now. I love Arkansas, people there are nice, and it’s different from my home country!
My high school was awesome, teachers, students, the staff, everyone was adorable to me! They helped me when I needed, and I met so many good people. High school was, for me, « the dream », I really enjoyed it. The best part was all the sports and activities, the games after school, the events during school like Pep Rally (some activities that you can only understand when you are in the U.S.). The classes were also diverse, and it was way better than France.
I would not say that the food was the best part, but in my high school they still tried to be original, and they didn’t have just fries. I don’t know about other people, but we were three exchange students in my school, and we all thought that the food from our home country was the thing we missed the most. But I still enjoyed trying new things, like fried pickles (yes sounds weird but it’s good).
Personally, I really recommend doing an exchange year; it’s important for your future because learning another language is always helpful. It also helps you develop yourself, your mind, and I think it’s hard to explain but you change in a good way. When I came to the US, I remember being shy and the only words I was saying were « thank you » « please » and « I’m an exchange student », when I look back, I am so proud of myself. I also talk with people easily now, and this is so different from the beginning! It takes time of course, but when you realize that you are doing it, you got it. I also got to volunteer in my high school, donating blood. It was the first time for me, and the people doing it in my school were so so nice. It was also fun because I did it with my friends and we were really proud.
Some of my favorite moments with my host family are our road trip to Florida! We took the car to go to Florida, it was 16 hours driving but with little siblings, it’s more 21 hours! The car ride was fun with my host sisters and the time in Florida, was amazing! I’m for sure going to stay in touch with them, I would always remember all the things that they did for me, just the fact that they took me in their family will always warm my heart.
My Local Coordinator helped me discover other exchange students from my home country but also from other countries and this was so cool. He came to our house a lot, to check on me and always make sure that I had a good experience, and I’m grateful to have him!
All the things that people would describe as a « only in the USA » experiences were kind of true. Prom was real, taking the car with your friends after school, going to Starbucks a lot, those things that you think they do were partially true for me.
But the biggest advice I would give to a future exchange student or someone that thinks about it is don’t expect too many things. Another piece of advice would be, don’t hesitate and do it, you want to try a sport, try! If you’re scared to fail, don’t be; it’s okay if they don’t accept you, there is a lot more! It’s maybe your chance and you are going to miss it because you are scared, you shouldn’t. I know it is easy to say but this advice is the best one. Don’t be scared or you’re going to regret it.