Fellow travelers!

It’s the summer time, which means many of you wanderlusters are heading out for a big adventure as a foreign exchange student next month. I am always thrilled to hear about another person leaving high school to take on this amazing (and underrated) experience living abroad.

Whether you are googling the crap out of your host hometown, Facebook stalking the other exchange students in your program, or still waiting to know who your host family is, I want to share with you 10 tips that helped me as a foreign exchange student.

1. Make friends at language camp.
For many exchange programs, you may spend a few weeks at language camp with other exchange students before going to your host family. This is a time to make friends! I promise, these students will be your lifesavers on your fall breaks or long weekends. My favorite moments were being able to visit these guys when I wasn’t in school. Be social.

2. Spend time with your host family.
It’s easy to hide away in your room when you’re in a new environment stuck in a house with strangers. But take the courageous step and spend as much time as possible with them. If everyone is watching TV downstairs, go downstairs and watch TV. If the family goes to church on Sunday, go to church on Sunday. If your host mom asks if you want to go to the grocery store with her, go! You are in your host country to learn, and spending time with your host family is the best way to do it.

3. Avoid the computer.
Talking to your family and friends back home is essential, but not for hours a day. If you’re on the computer all day, you’re probably not speaking your host language or learning about the culture (which is why you are there!). It is too easy to feel inadequate or become jealous when you see friends back home posting photos together, or when other foreign exchange students are posting about their awesome new friends. Give yourself a computer limit and also limit the time you spend talking to your parents back home.

4. Ask about the house rules.
A common reason for tension between host parents and exchange students is not communicating each other’s expectations. Even if your host parents don’t tell you the rules, ask them–What is the curfew on weekdays and weekends? How does the wi-fi work? Are there rules about the computer? What can I eat out of the refrigerator? Can I invite friends over to the house? These questions might feel silly, but it’s better to know the rules upfront than three months into the exchange after breaking the rules and not knowing.

5. Culture shock is real.
You might be the most accepting person on the planet until you’re three months into your exchange and turn into a racist bigot. Culture shock is a cycle, especially during a 10-month exchange. Everything will be exciting and new at first, then it loses its charm a few months later, then you hate everyone around you a few months later, and then there’s a moment where it finally hits: hey, this isn’t so bad… this is great! The hardest time for any exchange student is generally October through December–the holiday months. Remember this, remember it is normal, remember you can do it and it will totally pay off.

I wrote a post about the different phases of culture shock. Read here!

6. Be honest.
Don’t let anger or sadness wallow up inside of you. Open up to your host parents and tell them how you feel. If you usually spend an hour to yourself after school to relax, let them know you need that time. If you’re having a hard time in school, tell your teacher you’re struggling with the language–more times than not, they will make an exception for you. If your host parents offended you at dinner, don’t let that stir up inside of you–let them know. You come from a completely different culture. This is a learning experience for everyone.

7. Say yes to friend invites.
Especially at the beginning when you’re the cool, new, exchange student. Say yes to everything (except drugs…)! Diskos, birthday parties, study sessions–if you say no a lot at the beginning, they’re least likely to keep asking you later on. It might not always be the best time ever like with your besties back home, but it’s all about experiencing a new culture and getting to know other people’s perspectives (and you need to get out of the house!).

8. You’re going to look stupid and that’s okay.
How can you not look stupid? You’re a 17-year-old speaking with an 8-year-old language proficiency. People will say to you, “He’s so cute,” or “Isn’t she adorable?” and you’ll want to throw a rock at them, but hey! You’re learning a different language! You are living in a different country! Be patient. Keep trying to speak the language. Let them laugh at you when you say “you taste good” instead of “you have good taste.” Be vulnerable and keep going. You’ve got this.

9. Say thank you. A lot.
We’re often so shy as foreign exchange students. We’re not fluent, we’re different than everyone else around, and sometimes our tongue just doesn’t want to speak the host language that day. But ALWAYS remember to say thank you to your host family. They’re doing a huge favor taking you in. Even if you’re shy, they need to know that you appreciate them or they will start to worry.

10. It’s normal to feel weird when you come home.
Culture shock keeps going, even when you’re back home. You might have a hard time speaking your native language or even articulating your experience. Your friends will ask, “How was Germany?” and you won’t know how to respond. “Good” doesn’t cover 10 months of anyone’s life. Your own country will give you culture shock, like your extremely loud friends, or the jokes people make. Give it a month of two and it will wear off. You are going to have so much fun!

What did I miss, wanderlusters? What were important things for you during your foreign exchange?
To those of you going on a foreign exchange, what are your most excited about? What are your concerns?


  1. Anonymous

    Where were you go when you ‘re an exchange student

    • Hi! I was a foreign exchange student in 2009-10 in Germany. My friends in high school were all foreign exchange students, so we have spent a lot of time thinking about how to be happy on a foreign exchange.

      Are you going? Be safe in your travels and a a fantastic time! It is so, so worth it.

  2. These are great suggestions! What surprised me most about returning to the US after 6 weeks in French speaking Quebec, was how odd it was to hear English everywhere again. πŸ™‚

    • I know, it’s like you have to switch your brain back to the “English ways.” πŸ˜‰ I’ve heard Quebec is just gorgeous. Definitely on the list of things to see.

  3. I was never a foreign exchange student, but I have friends and family member who where and they really enjoy it.

  4. Well said! We’ve hosted exchange students and have lived abroad ourselves extensively. What an amazing opportunity to learn a new culture- but when we learn, it hurts- and we never are the same after (in a good way).

    This was a great post idea!

  5. What a great informative post. I have never been a foreign exchange student, so the post gave me a lot of insight to the challenges that the student may face.

  6. These are great tips! I never thought about the things that go along with being a foreign exchange student!

  7. I’m going to Germany as an exchange student next month!! Where in Germany did you go? Had you learnt any German before you went? Thanks

    • Livvy! I’m so excited for you! I knew about two-three years of German before I left, but even if you don’t know German, you WILL be able to at the end. It just takes time, but it will be amazing how much you’ll learn!

      I lived in a place called JΓΌlich in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Where are you going? How long are you staying?

      So many questions. Let me know if I can help you! I’d love to hear about your program/where you’re going/host family etc.! You can email me at annsiepantsblog@gmail.com.

      I hope you have a fabulous time!
      Anne Louise recently posted…DON’T FREAK OUTMy Profile

  8. These are great tips. I have two high school students so I am sure they will need to know them.

  9. These are great tips. All of them are true and so very helpful.
    Joyce@My Stay At Home Adventures recently posted…Latest Printable Coupons For 12/17/2014My Profile

  10. My husband was an exchange student for a semester abroad (Europe) and could definitely identify with this post (especially point #10)

    • Yes! I don’t think reverse culture shock gets enough attention. I was weird for about three months after I came home. πŸ˜‰

    • Got it! Thanks a lot again for henplig me out!

  11. Great list! I did a foreign exchange in highschool and it would have been nice to have read this first. One of the very BEST experiences of my life!!
    Sarah @ GlamGranolaGeek recently posted…Rainbow Chicken Casserole RecipeMy Profile

    • Where did you go, Sarah? I’m with you! Best experience ever. More people should do it! πŸ™‚

  12. I wish more than anything that I had taken advantage of a foreign exchange program! I would have been fluent in French by now! We did host an irish foreign exchange student when I was younger and that was fun!
    Tara Joy recently posted…A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings ReviewMy Profile

    • Are you still learning French? Love it when someone takes the time to learn a new language!

  13. Merci Beaucoup! Great post for the exchange student and any person travelling to another country where the people and villages/cities become your host ‘parent’.
    Katie Wassink recently posted…Christmas is ComingMy Profile

  14. Such great tips especially about the culture shock. I’ve travelled, I loved learning about the different cultures but sometimes it can be overwhelming.
    Shaney Vijendranath recently posted…Online Christmas ShoppingMy Profile

  15. Lauralaur

    Hey I’m an exchange student from Colombia and I’m right now in the U.S I’ve been here for seven months already but I feel that I don’t have to many friends. I really don’t know what to do because I really wanted this experience to be the best but it really hasn’t

    • Laura, I’m so sorry that you are having a rough time and I think this is what all of us exchange students have had to deal with. I wish I could give you a big hug right now!

      One thing that really helped me a couple of months in was I made myself a planner and everyday I HAD to plan something and add it into my calendar, even if it was small. Try and talk to the people in your classes and ask one of them to go to the movies with you (and if you’re anything like me, that can be REALLY hard to do, but I promise it’s worth it!) so you can add it. Join some after school clubs! Make sure you have something every week to look forward to! You’ve got this, Laura! Let me know if you need anything!
      Anne Louise recently posted…Art in the BedroomMy Profile

  16. Great guide for the foreign exchange students along side with the embedded comments. Actually, I got lot of information from comments of the readers itself. I will surely acknowledge these tips to my members.

  17. Leanne Spiegle

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been hearing these same tips a lot and I will definitely keep them in mind when I study abroad… I live in the US now and I leave for Salzgitter, Germany to spend my junior year in high school πŸ™‚ I am SO SO SO excited! I love reading blogs like this about other exchange students’ experiences. It’s so helpful and makes me feel like we are all a big family, haha πŸ™‚

    • Leanne I hope your foreign exchange is going so so so well! I’m sure by now your Germany is getting so great, you’re making a few friends, and I’m sure you’ve had a few rough patches with your host family (like a normal family, right? πŸ˜‰ ). I hope your taking advantage of hot chocolate and cafes during this time. Would love to hear how you’re doing!
      Anne Louise recently posted…You’ve Got MailMy Profile

  18. Lydia Thwaites

    This is so perfect! I’m going on a three-month exchange to France next year (I’m 15) and I’ve been really nervous. But this is so helpful! Your reassurance that yes, people will think it’s funny when I get something disastrously wrong, but that I should always make an effort anyway, is great. I just feel a little more prepared after reading this. Thank you so much! xx

    • Lydia oh my goodness, FRANCE? I just don’t know of a place in France that’s ugly. I’m so excited for you. Is there anything you need to know specifically? Maybe I’ll try posting about it, or if I don’t know the answer, I’ll get back with you. May you have many crepes and baguettes, love.
      Anne Louise recently posted…Venice Was a DreamMy Profile

  19. Thanks for all your advice! I’m in 9th grade and most likely embarking on exchange with a student in California.

  20. Tyler

    Thanks for the tips! I’m planning on studying in Finland my Junior year of high school. Will definitely keep these in mind as I prepare for the trip.

    • Tyler, how exciting. I’d love to know where in Finland you end up and what the day to day culture is like. I’ve never been to Finland, but man it looks gorgeous!
      Anne Louise recently posted…You’ve Got MailMy Profile

  21. Maryam Umar

    I really find this helpful, am currently a foreign exchange student in the U.S, I was finding it difficult to make friends at first but now i realize i have to make an effort to push my self and step out of my comfort zone! thank you..

    • You have nothing to lose, Maryam. πŸ™‚ Go tell them Americans how rockin awesome you are! (Ok, cheesy I know, but for reals.)

  22. nan

    This article was helped me, thank you!!
    I’m in US as an exchange student then I already spent about 4 months but I don’t have best friend. also I didn’t enjoy school so much because I’m very shy…
    But now i read this so i will try!!!
    Thank you!

    • Nan thanks for commenting! If you’ve gotten through these four months, you are doing FANTASTIC. How have the holidays been for you? This is what almost all exchange students say is the hardest time as families all over the world get together.

      Are you on school break? Maybe you can make a goal to go out with some friends (maybe see Starwars? Yes? πŸ˜‰ ). Are you changing classes for the third quarter / second semester? I hope you’ll have some classes to look forward to!

      It’s so good to hear from you. Enjoy your break!

  23. Raehan

    Hello! This is a super cool post. Thanks for writing about this. I’m so glad I came across your website. Did you experience any bullying when you were still an exchange student?

    • πŸ™ I really hope you’re not experiencing bullying. If you are Raehan, please don’t hesitate to talk with your host family, your teachers, or anyone you trust. You don’t deserve to be bullied.

      I went to an all girl’s school and did experience some mistreatment from a few of the girls. I think my American accent, my loud voice, and my goofy humor was a combination of things to target. It was hard for me to admit that I was being mistreated until the end of the exchange, and after watching a video I took with all my “friends” and realizing they were saying extremely rude things about me that I didn’t know were rude until I had a larger vocabulary (ha!).

      I hope you’re not being bullied. Thanks for writing your post. I’m sure our silent readers will be happy to see your post as well. Feel free to write back or email me. I check up on this post quite regularly. (It’s my fave!)

  24. Lore

    I’ve been reading a lot of these post lately cuz i’m going on exchange in like 6 months. I live in belgium and I’m going to argentine, I am soooo soooo soooo excited because I’ve wanted to do this my hole life! I am worried a little about the language tho? BecauSe I’ve been taking a couple of classes of spanish. And it’s not that I’m bad at it but it is sooo basic… Can you maybe give me so tips on how you learned the language … Just by talking or ? Extra classes? I am soo excited about argentina tho I think it will be amazing!!! ?. Oh ya! What should I definitely not pack ?

    • Hi Lore. πŸ™‚ What is your exchange like? Will you be doing some sort of language camp during the first few weeks?

      The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in the language. Some people think that if you just go to a different country, you should automatically learn the language. With social media, you can’t imagine how easy it is to NOT learn a language. Talk to your host families after dinner. Get off the computer. Make an instagram account to follow only your friends on the exchange.

      What definitely not to pack… Hmph. Let me get back to you. It really depends on when you’re going to Argentina. What months, Lore?

  25. Sara Jane

    Hello! Thank you soooo so much for all these wonderful tips! I’ll be leaving for my host country this August (I haven’t heard which country yet), and I am super incredibly IMMENSELY excited. πŸ™‚
    I’m going with the RYE program and am very blessed to be able to do so. I’m hoping to have Japan as my host country, though those hopes may fall through as there are only so many host families available. More often than not, I watch youtube videos of other foreign exchange students and the adventures they’ve all gone on, hoping to learn any life-saving wisdom and thoughts they may be able to give. Do you think you could write another post with a few more details and tips for exchange students? πŸ™‚
    Some of the big things I’m worried about are getting lost in the airport or getting on the wrong plane. I also have some major concerns about going to a highschool in a foreign country because I’ve been homeschooled since the end of 1st grade and will be going into my Junior year in highscool. So, as you can plainly see my predicament, if you have any tips whatsoever of anything I might be able to expect out of a foreign school, please please plllleeeaasse, I need to know them!
    Thank you so much, and have a blessed day!

    -Sara J

    • Hello Sara! Thank you so much for your post. I hope you’re enjoying the New Year! Have you found out where you’re going? I’ve actually never heard of the RYE program and will have to do some serious research about it, because it sounds amazing.

      Your question about me writing another post made me a little giddy. I’ve been thinking about writing more posts and have a bunch more tips, so I’ll get on that, Sara. Thank you for being my New Years Resolution motivator. πŸ™‚

      1. Sara, don’t worry about getting lost in the airports. It’s so true that they’re scary. It’s nerve racking when you’re all by yourself. But an airport has so many workers and flight attendants that are usually happy to help. There are signs and directions everywhere to the next terminals, etc.. You can look up the airport lay out on their websites before you go too. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and then go. You’ve totally got this.

      2. It’ll be so interesting to see how your high school experience goes. I don’t know what country you’re going to, but a general rule of thumb is to not be afraid to ask people to hang out. Talk. Ask them something they like to do in that city/town/village and say “Can I do that with you sometime?” Then make a date! What I’ve learned from high school and from the foreign exchange is that people don’t know you’re struggling. They see you and think “Ohh, she’s so cute. She’s living the dream of being in a new country.” They don’t see that it can be really hard, or that since you can’t speak the language, you feel a little lonely. That’s why it’s up to you to make friends. That can be really hard and I’m not saying that there won’t be savers on the way that will come and help you along the way, but just be prepared.

      Voila. There’s a little bit. Feel free to reply. I’ll get going on more foreign exchange posts! Thanks, Sara!

    • Hanna

      Hi Sara! I’m also going with the Rotary International, and I’m getting pretty excited. I’ve been told that we get to know where we’re going sometime this week!

      Good luck and hopefully you go to Japan!

  26. Regan

    Hello! I am thinking about becoming a foreign exchange student, but it’s totally crazy to imagine for me. I’m the kind of person who gets very anxious about changing her routines and not being comfortable, and I worry A LOT. Just ONE reason I’ve been thinking about this is that I want to change that about me, along with all the other wonderful things that come with foreign exchange. It really doesn’t seem like something I would ever consider and I’m terrified, but a huge part of me really wants to try this. (Other worries : missing out from things at home, no friends at new country, etc.)

    • Hey, Regan! Hmm, you sound a lot like me! πŸ˜‰ I want to tell you just a few things, if that’s all right:

      1) “I want to change that about me…” What do you want to do with your life? Do you love the idea of traveling and meeting new people and talking in a different language? Does all that sound appealing? If so, I think you should keep moving forward with your thoughts about the foreign exchange. BUT, you do need to know that the foreign exchange will not change your anxiety. In fact, it completely worsened mine. Be aware of this before you go. Are you meditating/staying active? Have you spoken with your doctor? Be aware of who you are and what you need before you go. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go. You absolutely should if you want to. Just be aware of what you will face while on the exchange — a little loneliness, a little awkwardness, a completely different lifestyle. Let me know what you think! I’d be happy to keep talking with you about this, Regan.

      Other worries:
      1) Missing out from things at home — Okay fellow anxious girl. Think about this. What really will you be missing out on? Yes, all of the dances will be a bummer. Friends’ excursions are a bummer. Boyfriends. Whatever it is. But it’s ONE year. What will you be missing out on if you don’t go? I promise you, the time goes so fast. Don’t let those things tie you down.

      2) No friends at a new country — This is something scary. Have you seen some of the comments here? I will promise you this. You will be lonely at times. REALLY lonely. But I promise you this. You’ll have days where you’re walking down a cobblestone road and realizing that you are LIVING. IN. ANOTHER. COUNTRY. eat a freaking gelato, understanding everything going on around you. And it will be amazing.

      Comment again if you have more questions. Study abroad/Exchange friends, any other comments for Regan?
      Anne Louise recently posted…All Things 2015My Profile

  27. Carly

    This post is amazing thank you so much for writing this! I am about 100 days from leaving to go on exchange and everything feels really weird right now. One day I am bouncing off the walls excited to leave and the next I’m crying thinking about leaving for the year. I know this is what I want to do and I know I’ll be fine once I leave but do you have any tips for the final two months leading up to exchange and how to deal with this roller coaster of emotions? Thanks!

  28. Sara Navarro Salazar

    heyyy,so im colombian and im planning on going to australia next year to study english,and my biggest fear is not making friends since im staying at my cousin house and im kinda shy,also another thing that bothers me is like im gonna be soooooooo lost when i get there

  29. India

    I’m going on exchange to France for a year in 2 months and this post really helped a lot. Is surprisingly hard to find helpful information. Thanks for the great post

    • Good luck! Let me know if you have questions.

  30. Katie

    I’m most likely going to be an exchange student next year, but I’m so nervous about the language barrier! How good were you at German when you traveled there, and any advice?

    • Katie, I was lucky to have a fab German teacher in High School. But I had barely any experience speaking in German. I knew the grammar pretty well, and quite a lot of vocabulary, but it was still a lot to learn. If you have a full year, take a class in High School, or use websites/apps like livemocha.com or Duolingo. If you’re studying German specifically, email me and let’s chat in German! πŸ˜‰ See my about page.
      Anne Louise recently posted…The BearMy Profile

  31. Sara

    Hi Anne Louise!
    I’m a 15 year-old girl from Denmark.
    Lately, I have been having a lot of thoughts about being an exchange student next year. The whole thought about getting away for almost a year and learning another language in a place where you’re surrounded by it sounds so exciting and appealing, but it also freaks me seriously out! These tips have really answered a lot of my questions, so thank you for that.
    But there is still one thing that I haven’t decided yet, and that’s where I want to go. For a long time, USA was the only country on my list, but France also really appeals to me, and I have always been a sucker for the French language. Of course I’m a lot better at English than French, so spending a year in USA would be a lot easier that way, but I have also been studying French for a bit more than 2 years in school, so French wouldn’t be completely strange for me either.
    So my question for you is: where would you go, if you were in my place and wasn’t fluent in any of the languages?
    Thank you!

    • Sara what is your home country? This is difficult for me. I would immediately say France because I’m an American girl. But the US (being biased and all) is so much fun, especially for a foreign exchange. High School dances, after school clubs, football season, etc. But, like, it’s France. Haha! With the US, I’d be careful to not have too high expectations. There’s a higher percentage of you living inland than right on the beach in California or right in a city. But to me, you’d still love it. Let me (and the rest of the silent readers) know what you choose!!!

  32. Josephine

    I want to go on an exchange program so bad, but I’m a senior in high school and the only time to do it would be next year! Which means… I’d be missing out on the first year of college ! Am I overthinking this and making a big deal out of stuff… or is it really gonna be annoying being a year older than every other freshman? And graduating a year later than everyone else? This experience seems so amazing! But is it gonna be awkward being older than every other freshman…??

    Also.. was it hard to make friends? Did people make fun of you ever? Were you actually seen as cool, or as weird? It’s hard to accept going to high school for an additional year… even if it would be an AMAZING experience!

    • Josephine, APPLY NOW. Wait on the college stuff! Oh my goodness, girl, I promise you, you nor any other people will notice you being a freshman a year later. You’ll find that there are plenty of other people in your classes who are a lot older. That’s what’s so different about college– you’ll going to school with people from ALL SORTS of ages.

      Go do it, girl. Sorry that I’m getting back to you late. The application deadlines are in December, so go apply, πŸ˜‰

      We can talk about foreign exchange stuff once you get my message and decide to go.

      BUT if you don’t end up going, just go to school and swing past the study abroad center at your university. Tons and tons of opportunities in college. Let me and the rest of us know what you decide. Please!
      Anne Louise recently posted…The BearMy Profile

  33. Laura

    IΒ΄m going to be an exchange stunden in Germany in january. I’m very nervous but also very excited.
    What worries me the most is the school. It was very difficult to make friends?
    What part of germany did you go?

    • Laura! How are you doing? Tell us all about your exchange so far! I’m sure all of us want to hear.
      So sorry I missed your comment. Not sure what happened.

      I’ll be honest. Making friends in Germany was very difficult. People like me, I realized, but the culture is different. Germans watch you from afar and decide how close they want to be to you. By the end of the exchange, I had so many people love me and want us to stay in touch forever (and ever. And ever.), but in my mind I thought, “You guys want to be my friends NOW? After all this time!?”

      I did have friends that I loved while I was there, and who really helped me. The best advice I feel I can give you about this is, don’t look for a best friend. Just look for a hang out buddy. You need hang out buddies. You need to be willing to ask people to do things with you.

      I really hope you see this, so that you’ll write back! I want to hear about everything so far!
      Anne Louise recently posted…Graffiti LoveMy Profile

      • Laura

        IΒ΄m doing very well Thanks. Right now i am very happy, in my school everyone is very kind but they donΒ΄t open up so fast as i thought they would. Of course leaving my familiy was very hard but at the end i will see them again. I think one of the must difficult parts so far has been the food, here they only dink orange and apple juice and for meal only bread which i find quite strange.

        Thank you for answering me


  34. Hey, I’m a Dutch student who really wants to go to a community college in the USA but my parents are afraid that it costs a lot of money at the end. Is that true, because they don’t really like it to loan money from the bank…?

    • Hi Meggie. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you soon enough!
      My knowledge about study abroads for community college is slim, but start googling! “International Students Community College [California, Utah, etc.].” “Study abroad in the U.S.” If you find anything, will you let me know? If I come across something, I’ll post it here.
      Anne Louise recently posted…Graffiti LoveMy Profile

      • Meggie van Schaik


        Thank you for answering me! I talked about it with my family, and decided that it might be better to just finish MBO (kind of like a community college, but in The Netherlands) and then, when I’m 19, maybe a year working abroad so I can still learn more about different cultures and also get paid for it.

        If you still find things about community college, please let me know?! Maybe I’ll change my mind πŸ˜‰

  35. Cristina C.

    I was an exchange student over 30yrs ago and now we will be hosting our fist student. Knowing the challenges that I faced back then I was looking for tips I could send to her before her arrival to prepare her a little. Your article is spot on, as true today as it was 30 yrs ago. Thank you

  36. Carolina

    Hi I am currently an exchange student in Germany and I am struggling to make friends in high school any tips?? Thakyou

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