A 20 minute car ride- the airport to a house. Not yours, but someone else’s. Someone you hadn’t met until you got to the airport. Your
house is 17 hours in plane rides behind you-not a quick trip if you get sick or something bad happens. A year of planning, two days in airports and hours of paperwork have led you to this final car ride, and there’s no turning back.
For students like juniors Emil Clemensson, Lian Krauss and Raphael Reimers, this has recently become a reality. All three, along with two more students are at Johnson on foreign exchange programs, Clemensson from Sweden and the others from Germany.
“When I first landed, I was really tired but I was also very excited,” Clemensson said. “On the airplane I met this very nice girl. On the flight, we talked a lot. And speaking English for all that time I got used to it. Then when I arrived in Atlanta, I thought there were very many fat people.”
For some people, the prospect of ‘studying abroad’ seems daunting. The exchange program Youth For Understanding (YFU) brings about 4,000 students into the US every year, while only about 400 Americans leave through the organization a year. According to Cathy White, the Senior Community Development Manager for YFU, distance from family and friends, cost, and apprehension about other cultures are the main things which keep most American students from pursuing a foreign exchange program.
“I also think Americans generally don’t like leaving America like that,” White said. “There is a general fear among American parents of letting their kids leave.”
Another concern for students is the possibility of sacrificing school credits they need to graduate.
“I like to see kids do foreign exchange but do it after their senior year, maybe as that year before they go off to college,” counselor Patti Snider said. “I would think that the time to do that is in college just because our state requirements are strict. They might be a little stricter than what Europe has so I think it’s easier for kids in Europe to come over here and go back. Or maybe they are willing to sacrifice an extra year. So if you’re willing to do an extra year in high school great, but I would elect to do it after you graduate.”
According to White, the benefits of studying abroad can be exponential for students in high school or college.
“You make connections,” White said. “Many students who go somewhere on exchange keep contact with their host families when they go home. You also really become immersed in a culture, and immersion is the best way to get better at a language. It also looks great on a resume or a college application.”
Along with connections and cultural immersion, White says students also become more independent and confident by being away from family and friends, because it forces them out of their comfort zone.
“I thought I would have more problem but it is not that hard,” Reimers said. “Many exchange students say that the hardest time is when you want to go home during Christmas.”
Getting ready for an exchange program is an extensive process. First students have to decide what program to go through. With a variety of options, students should look at the cost, reputation and communication structure of organizations. Many organizations offer scholarships and fundraising opportunities for their trips. According to White, the communication structure and reputation of an organization are important for problem solving and making the experience more enjoyable.
“Organizations like YFU have area reps living in the city who isn’t part of the family who has knowledge of local customs who helps the students while they live there,” White said. “Also, a well established organization has more experience with issues that might arise.”
While some people expect exchange programs to be academically focused, it can also be used to broaden students’ world view.
“I like to see things in another way and form my personality I guess,” Clemensson said. “Form it because I am still young and I am still forming my personality. I want to be more open and social because I was kind of shy. I don’t really want to be shy. I want to challenge myself to be here this year and do this.”
For more information about foreign exchange programs visit: