High School Abroad

What to Know About High School Student Exchange Programs

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Belinda Birchall

Growing up in New Zealand, Belinda (and her husband Matt) decided to trade in their comfortable lives in Wellington for a stint in the Middle East....

What to Know About High School Student Exchange Programs
Photo credit: Caroline E., Travel for Teens Alum

Some of us catch the travel bug younger than others. The opportunity to spend a year overseas on a high school student exchange program, immersing yourself in another language and culture and meeting new people, is an incredible way to foster both a love of travel, and the start a lifelong journey of learning.

With lots of different opportunities to go overseas on a high school exchange, there is no need to wait until college to travel -- and a semester or year overseas will look great on your college application! You can use your year overseas to discover what you are really passionate about, learn more about world history or other cultures, or build relationships with people all across the world.

As well as providing an exciting opportunity to spice up your own high school years, a high school exchange overseas is a great way to safely venture into the exciting world of travel -- and there are various options available to students who wish to participate in one.

Where to Go on a High School Student Exchange

What to Know About High School Student Exchange Programs: Where to Go
Photo by Jamie S., SAI Italy Alum

There are thousands of places throughout the world where you can do a high school exchange. However, it's very important to focus on three key issues: What do you want to get from the program, do you hold any foreign language skills, and how far from your comfort zone do you (or your parents!) want you to stray?

Canada

The idea of being a long way from home is very appealing to some students, and absolutely terrifying to others. If you live in America and are a little worried about wandering too far, why not consider a high school student exchange in Canada? If you live in California or Miami, experiencing a Canadian winter may be enough of a change of pace to satisfy your wanderlust! If you speak French, you could always consider a high school exchange in Quebec.

New Zealand

Travelling to a country that speaks your language can reduce the chance of culture shock, and help you to integrate into a new culture quickly. A high school exchange in New Zealand will let you experience a whole new part of the world, and you already speak the local lingo. If your parents are worried about your safety, you can reassure them - the 2017 Global Peace Index rated , beaten only by Iceland.

China

You may want to consider your language skills. Some countries that offer exchanges will, of course, speak English as well as the local language. However, in some more exotic locations, it would be very helpful to learn a bit of the local language. A high school exchange in China, for example, would give you a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the Chinese culture, and there will be many people excited to converse with you in both English and Chinese.

Italy

Some students see a student exchange as the perfect opportunity to immerse themselves in a completely different culture, and there are lots of opportunities for this, too. A short student exchange in Italy gives you the chance to visit one of the most beautiful destinations in Europe, and to taste some of the most delicious, carb-laden cuisine in the world. Who could say no to that?

Argentina

Lastly, if you are looking for something completely different - but want to develop your Spanish language skills - maybe a high school semester in Argentina sounds like fun? Living in the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires, you will get to experience a completely different lifestyle - complete with late night dinners, immersion with Spanish speaking students and trips to the countryside.

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Types of High School Exchange Programs

What to Know About High School Student Exchange Programs: Types of High School Programs
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Once you have narrowed down your choice of country or region, you will need to think about the type of program you would like. There are a few different options for you, and considerations to make.

Academic Programs

Historically, you were limited in what you could do while going abroad as a student. While things have changed, the most popular type of high school exchange program is still an academic program. This, in essence, lets you continue your high school study at another educational institution elsewhere. It means that you will not need to lengthen the time you spend at high school, and you may even gain extra credit for your time spent overseas. Academic programs can run anywhere from two weeks to a whole year overseas.

Language Immersion Programs

A high school exchange that is becoming more popular is immersion language programs. These allow you to spend a period of time - usually over a holiday break - living in another country, immersing yourself in language learning. These exchanges offer a great opportunity to develop your language skills, combined with the change to experience the sights, smells and people of a new destination. These programs are usually shorter, running from a few weeks to a summer semester long.

Cultural Exchange Programs

Typically much shorter in length, you can also take a cultural exchange overseas. These do not have an academic focus and do not typically count towards your high school studies. However, they do provide a fantastic way to meet new people and learn about a new culture in a safe, organized environment. For example, this summer course in Japan lets you both learn a bit of the Japanese language, and to learn about interesting Japanese cultural phenomena like manga and anime.

Planning Your High School Exchange

What to Know About High School Student Exchange Programs: Planning Your High School Exchange
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Now, here comes the fun part: planning! Taking time out of your high school career to study overseas is a big deal and requires plenty of forethought. With a little bit of planning and some well-honed organizational skills, you'll be ready for your adventure in no time!

How to Choose a High School Student Exchange Program

You should also think about what it is you would like to achieve from your exchange when deciding where to go. Is this a chance solely to develop language skills, or would you like to travel or learn about a new culture? Perhaps you want to spend a semester in the sun, or you are interested in really challenging yourself. These factors can help you determine where a good location to go overseas for a student exchange, and help identify your preferred areas for your time overseas.

Programs run for various lengths of time, anything from one week to a whole year. Shorter programs are obviously cheaper, although not always drastically so, and you will miss the opportunity to immerse yourself fully in the local culture. However, your high school in your home country might only allow a certain period away from the core school, so a short break might be your only option. Year-long courses offer a great chance for full immersion, but a year might be a bit too long for some students to be away from home. It all depends on the individual - and the length is one of the key factors you should consider when choosing a program.

Once you add the cost factor into the equation, it should help you to identify what type of program you want to undertake. Look for reviews from people that have already attended your chosen program, such as those you will find on Go Overseas, and don't be afraid to ask lots of questions.

Who Organizes the Programs?

Student Exchange Programs are typically run through agencies and organizations that specialize in placing students in high school exchange programs overseas. They are the experts in this line of work, used to dealing with excited students and worried parents. In many cases, the organizations have been operating for many years, and have established programs that have stood the test of time. If you are particularly interested in beefing up your college application, certain , and this will add an extra air of legitimacy to your time overseas.

How Much Do Exchange Programs Cost?

Compared to studying abroad while at college, tuition fees are generally lower for high school students, and the cost of living is much lower, with teenagers typically living with a host family. You can expect to pay anything from $1500 upwards for an overseas exchange program, but prices vary per destination - with Western European and Australian/New Zealand destinations generally costing the most. Because less people tend to go overseas as high schools students, there are also lots of scholarships available to help you pay for a student exchange program.

Health & Safety

Like any travel abroad, you need to be careful. While you'll probably have a host family to guide and support you, this is your chance to gain independence and show your maturity in an international setting. You should do plenty of research on the country you intend to visit, taking note of the customs and culture of your new home, as well as any particular scams that foreigners are targeted for. Knowing some of the local language is always useful -- and make sure you have health insurance to cover you in case of emergency during your stay.

Ready to go? We totally get it! Going on an exchange program in high school is your first step in what will probably be a lifetime of travel, so plan carefully and enjoy the trip.