“Those who have been on an exchange program will identify with the fact that when they return from their exchange program to their native country, they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They stand out from the crowd. They are innovators. They become change-makers. Their ideas are refined with a new outlook. With the set of diverse experiences, they become a different individual.
Transformations in exchange students are always conspicuous to everyone around them, be it in their way of dressing up or in ways of communicating or the practical approaches they take. It takes time for an exchange student to adjust to the community, with friends & with families. While many adapt to the change with maturity, others rely on peer support to swim through those challenges.
Living in an alien country as an exchange student offers everyone the chance of experiential learning where they get to practice and explore independence, responsibility, critical thinking, facing challenges, handling unprecedented situations and more which in turn makes them self-reliant and independent by unearthing the undiscovered talents in oneself.
Once the student comes back to their native country, they use these talents and skills to take adroit decisions. They develop broader perspectives. As one of the former AFS exchange student, one of the cardinal things that I have learned is to take a step towards challenging stereotypes and prejudices one has about each other and their cultures. It, not only, clears the stereotypes and prejudices misconstrued by myriads but also increases your knowledge and propensity towards learning the cultures of others around you. Now, not only I see people with various backgrounds irrespective of their race, religion etc. with welcoming attitude, but I respect the differences and focus my energy to acknowledging that world is diverse and differences bring us closer.
Taking Indian student as the case study, a majority of exchange students who go abroad change the course of their careers. Earlier they would have wanted to be an engineer or a doctor, but during their exchange year, they are introduced to a mammoth of information and career options. They grow aware of different scopes of a field and identify their passion affecting their eventual choice of career. Like others, before my exchange year, even I wanted to pursue a crowd familiar career in India, but during my exchange year, I was introduced to many things, many options and explored my talents in various fields, and eventually chose to pursue Journalism, and later International Relations.
During my time with AFS, I have seen hundreds of students who went on exchange program and came back with new goals of doing something different and unique, something that would propel their careers in numerous positive ways and also add some goodness to the world. They come back with enhanced learning.
Another effect of the exchange program is learning of different elements during the exchange. Exchange students come back with lots of experiences and learning. In the beginning, they feel that they can implement all new ideas in a go, but they don’t realize that it can’t happen quickly and the process of change is not quick but gradual. It is also important that the student gets support & motivation from parents, school teachers & friends to welcome the change and imbibe these in constructive and positive ways, which can help us all create a beautiful culture of learning experiences that we gather.
With the experience of being an AFS Exchange Student, it’d be right and fair to say that AFS Programs are designed & structured in a way to provide exposure and learning towards making the participant interculturally sensitive. We’ve seen positive change in students who have gone on exchange program and are now excelling in their own field. I agree that there will be some challenges during and after the program, but AFS’s educational approach and learning curriculum are designed to help you navigate through those challenges.
There are many exchange programs out there for everyone: be it domestic exchange where one can discover various cultures of India or the international exchange programs where one can travel abroad for a broader exposure. I urge all of you to understand the power of an exchange program and to be an exchange program student by getting out of your comfort zone and experience the world without boundaries and with lots of possibilities.
If you’re an exchange student or have been on an exchange program, take a moment to reflect on your exchange program experience as it is something which can’t be described absolutely in words, but can only be felt.”