A young person's perspective
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Thinking about taking part in your school's exchange but getting cold feet? Our Youth Ambassadors have put together common myths surrounding those 'daunting' exchanges and are here to tell you about the exciting reality of staying with a host family!
MYTH: I will get homesick on the exchange
REALITY: The thing which worried me the most before I set off on an exchange was missing my family; it was my first time away from home, and the thought of spending a week with a strange new family who spoke a different language filled me with apprehension. However, as soon as I arrived at the airport my misconceptions vanished; my host family were there to greet me. They knew my name, chatted to me about the city I would be living in for the next few weeks, and made me feel as welcome as possible.
Over the course of the week, we did so many activities (and my brain was so filled with trying to speak German), that there was very little time left for sad reflections on missing home. On the one occasion I did become melancholic, my host mother took it as an opportunity for us to discuss our families and the memories I would take back to mine in Newport, allowing me to quickly overcome the feeling and get on with enjoying what was an unforgettable experience!
MYTH: My German family will be horrible / won't like me
REALITY: As someone who has been on an exchange and spoken to plenty of others who have, almost all exchange families are lovely! They are always grateful for the opportunity of an exchange and all the benefits that come with it, plus it is really exciting for everyone involved.
Perhaps bring a gift of something typically British that can give you something to talk about in that first nervous encounter – this will help break the ice and make your family even more open and friendly.
Also more often than not, they want to make you think that their country is the best so make an exceptional effort to make you feel welcome; taking you to festivals, making you traditional (and delicious) German food, and some even go skiing! So there's no need to be afraid!
MYTH: The language barrier will be a problem!
REALITY: When I did an exchange in Year 10, I was very apprehensive about not being able to express myself properly. I was initially scared that I would somehow get into a situation where I would have absolutely no idea what was happening, but this concern vanished when I realised that the members of my host family were all fluent in English - much better than I was at German! This really inspired me to challenge myself and not be afraid of making mistakes. I actually found that over the week, my speaking skills improved immensely, and I was even able to understand most of the conversations that my exchange partner's friends were having.
Being put into an environment where you are completely surrounded by German means that you absorb new words and expressions without really knowing it. Doing the exchange was a really worthwhile experience in this regard; it is practically impossible to achieve this level of immersion in German unless you go to Germany itself!
MYTH: I won't like German food!
REALITY: I was worried about food before I visited Germany because there were lots of things I didn't like to eat and I had no idea what I'd be fed. My host family ate really similar foods to what I ate at home, and the biggest difference was just what time the meals were eaten. My exchange partner and I got hungry at different times! Some of the things I thought I'd hate actually tasted great. Some of the best things I ate were Pommes mit Paprika (fries with paprika on), Brezeln (pretzels), Schnitzel, Kartoffelsalat (in a jar) and of course Schokolade!
Host families want to make you as welcome as possible so it's OK to let them know if there's something you really don't want to eat, but always try something first. The best thing is to have an open mind, try everything once and take advantage of the amount of chocolate and Haribo you can buy in Germany!