By Monica Schreiber
Visiting another country as an exchange student is a life-changing experience. Immersing yourself in a different culture and language leads to exciting new adventures and offers the rare opportunity to see the world from a new perspective. That’s certainly what we hear from the many young people who have participated in Neighbors Abroad exchange programs since the 1960s.
But it can all be overwhelming. Living with strangers. Navigating a new language. Being completely out of your comfort zone. Maybe even limited access to Starbucks (the horror). The payoffs are huge in terms of life experience, but it takes some effort to make the most of it all.
When you’re visiting another country, whether on a Neighbors Abroad program or in any other capacity, you represent your home country. Fair or not, even well intentioned people often will make sweeping generalizations about “Americans” based on how you behave. This can be especially true for teens. The teens we send abroad—we think of them as Young Ambassadors—don’t just represent the United States, they proudly represent Palo Alto and the greater Silicon Valley region.
That said, with a few tricks and gentle reminders, any teen (or adult!) can go forth into the world with all the confidence of a foreign diplomat. Here are a few tips for winning hearts and minds – and ultimately having the time of your life:
The great thing about these practices is that they will serve you well at any point in your life, whether you’re navigating high school, college, starting a new job, or embarking on a new relationship. Ask questions, be engaged, smile, try new things, express gratitude, use your knife and fork correctly, and … Put. Down. Your. Phone.
Neighbors Abroad offers long-running exchange programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Tsuchiura, Japan. We also offer opportunities for students and adults to visit our Sister Cities in other capacities. Click here for brief summaries of Neighbors Abroad’s exchange programs. Email email@example.com for more information. I’ll put you in touch with the right person.