The benefits of student exchange programs

30 January 2017

Foreign exchanges are a great way for students to fully immerse themselves in another culture, practise their language skills and learn a lot more about themselves. Kids develop a new sense of maturity and independence, and for some, it’s the first time they have stayed away from home for such a length of time. While the experience can push students out of their comfort zone, exchanges offer a great opportunity to make new friends, see another part of the world, and it looks great on their resume too.

School exchanges

Grace Lutheran College offers its students the chance to go on a study tour of Germany or Japan. In Term 3 each year, a group of 15 students from Nichidai Tsurugaoka High School in Japan have a three-week homestay experience with students from the college, and students from Lebach in Germany come to stay with the college’s host families at the start of Term 4 most years.

“During their time at Grace, the exchange students attend lessons, go on excursions and learn lots of new things about Australia—particularly our local region,” says Ken Hutchinson, head of languages at the school. “They also visit every language class at both Rothwell and Caboolture campuses, helping with lessons and participating in activities with the theme of peace and harmony.”  

During the spring holidays, students from Grace have the opportunity to participate in a study tour to Germany in the odd years (2017, 2019, etc) or Japan in the even years (2016, 2018, etc). Any students who have elected to continue their language study after Year 8 can apply for the study tours.

“The study tour to Germany includes visits to Berlin, Munich, Salzburg, Berchtesgaden, Neuschwanstein, and then on to Lebach, where the group attends its sister school, Geschwister Scholl Gymnasium,” says Mr Hutchinson. “As for the Japan study tour, typically about 20 Grace students spend an amazing 17 days immersed in the Japanese language and culture.

“The tour includes visits to Tokyo, Mt Fuji, Takayama, Shirakawa, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima,” he adds. “One of the real highlights of the tour is attending classes at Nichidai Tsurugaoka where they also have a homestay with Nichidai families.”

Sunshine Coast Grammar also offers its students the chance to go on an exchange to Shohei High School in Saitama Prefecture, located outside Tokyo.

“This is a new relationship with Shohei High School and we had three students spend the duration of Term 4 abroad studying Japanese at Shohei,” explains Elizabeth Suzuki, co-ordinator of Japanese.

She said the improvements in the students’ language skills are a major benefit of the exchange: “At first, it may only be snippets of a conversation that they can engage in, in Japanese, but as they increase in confidence they become more involved in conversations in target language.”

Year 10 student Jordan Lucas was in the group of those who recently went to Japan. She said: “Being lucky enough to be able to experience completely different culture, customs, and language, is something I can safely say I will neither regret nor forget. In such a short amount of time I have gained countless valuable life skills, and have had the opportunity to experience first-hand something that most people cannot understand unless they have experienced it themselves.”

As well as exchanges to Japan, Sunshine Coast Grammar students can take part in a linguistic and cultural study tour to Aurillac in France thanks to a partnership with Europe Langues Organisation (ELO). The tours are based on a reciprocal arrangement where the school welcomes students from Aurillac and then returns to France to spend three weeks with the same students and their families the following year. “It is often following time on tour that students decide to return to France on exchange,” says Georgie Richardson, head of French. “Past exchanges undertaken have varied in duration from six weeks to six months. Currently students in Year 9 to 12 are eligible to apply for exchange.”

How much does it cost?

“Tour costs vary according to such things as exchange rates, and the itinerary,” Mr Hutchinson explains. “However, it is usually in the region of $3,800 to $4,000. This amount includes almost everything except personal spending money.”

“The cost impost to the student is minimal as it is reciprocal and the students involved host a Japanese student in return if they are able,” says Mrs Suzuki.

“Costs for students involve flights, personal insurance if they wish (though they are covered by the school insurance), and a payment per week to the host family.”

Mrs Richardson adds that the benefits of an exchange are plentiful: “Being on exchange is exciting in terms of knowledge acquisition–it’s like hundreds of light bulb moments all at once. It is hard to explain the feeling of truly being able to communicate and operate in another language, in another culture, on your own. It builds independence, resilience, global awareness and empathy like nothing else can.”

Year 11 Sunshine Coast Grammar student Lola Barbero said participating on a French exchange alongside three of her good friends was the highlight of her school year. “During my stay there I got to make many new friends as well as seeing familiar faces from the 2014 French tour, which was absolutely incredible. I also got to experience the French culture in more depth and immerse myself more in the French lifestyle. This trip allowed me to visit new places, meet new people and try some strange but delicious meals. I will always treasure my time and memories in France and I hope to visit Aurillac in the future.”

Camille Hansen was lucky enough to spend Christmas and New Years in France on her exchange. “The two months that I spent in Aurillac, France were undoubtedly the most amazing and life-changing months of my life,” she says. “I experienced what life was like in France in an in depth level that was completely new to me.“For those two months I lived in complete French emersion; living with a French family, going to school and attending classes completely in French, eating endless amounts of French food and finally experiencing Christmas and New Years in France.

“For those two months I lived in complete French emersion; living with a French family, going to school and attending classes completely in French, eating endless amounts of French food and finally experiencing Christmas and New Years in France.

“In the time I was there, I fell in love with French culture and the amazing people that I met along the way. We were all so incredibly happy with our host families; they welcomed us completely into their homes and lives, giving us the support and love that is sometimes needed when living away from home. When the two months drew to close and I was forced to say my teary goodbyes to my new friends and my host families, it struck me that in just two short months I had experienced things that many people won’t ever have the opportunity to do and for that I am incredibly grateful.”

Independent organisations

There are many independent organisations that provide exchanges for students whose school does not offer them, or for those who are interested in a different exchange to those available at their school.

World Education Program (WEP) offers student exchanges to over 25 countries to those in Years 9 through to 11. Argentina, Ireland, China, Mexico and Switzerland are just some of the countries that students can visit.

Parents can also apply to become a host family for overseas students travelling to Australia. Kelly and Ian recently hosted a student from Brazil. “I would recommend the experience of hosting to anyone,” Kelly said. “It is such a rewarding experience, for everyone involved. The student, the children of the host family, the family of the student, and of course, me as a host mother. I feel blessed that I have been allowed to ‘borrow’ someone else’s son, and am sad to ‘give him back’. I have had an eye opener of things to come when my children reach the teenage years, and feel that I am better prepared for the experience.”

Program costs depend on the destination and length of stay. For example, a semester-long exchange to Switzerland will cost around $10,550, while a year-long exchange to Thailand costs around $8,950. For more information, visit wep.org.au.

Written by

Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City

You may also like