Wry Exchange


Part 2: Where Should I Go?
09-11-07, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program | Tags: , , , , , , ,

 We covered physical environment in part one.  Let’s focus on your personality in part two.  I have a few anecdotes about country choices. 

  • I interviewed a girl a few years ago who listed her country choices as Japan and The Netherlands.  I don’t understand how she thought she could be happy in both of those countries.  They are as opposite as possible.   Japan is all about rules and fitting into the group, and Holland is ‘do what makes you happy.’
  • I interviewed a girl several years ago who told me she wanted to go to Australia since she was 12.  During the interview, she said she had just returned from a week-long retreat, and that she was very religious.  She wore a very large cross, and came across as a serious person.  Her application was strong- great grades, glowing recommendations, she was a promising candidate.  She didn’t want a ‘fun only’ year, she wanted to go somewhere and study.  She liked history, languages, and touring old churches.  Australia just didn’t fit.  We asked her why she chose Australia, and she replied that ever since she saw ‘The Rescuers Down Under’, that’s where she wanted to go!  She ended up going to Austria, and LOVED it.  Perfect match.  She would’ve been miserable in Australia.  (People asked her about kangaroos all year, anyway.)
  • Many times students reply ‘France, Italy, Germany, Spain’ when asked where they want to go.  When asked why, they respond “Those are the only countries I know.”  Happens annually.  Don’t be that idiot.  Have a good reason why you chose 3 particular countries.

What do you want out of your year?  Do you want to become fluent in another language?  Will you be helping your future career?   Do you want to explore your roots?  Do you want somewhere exotic?  Do you want something as far away from daily life as possible?  Do you want to be a beach bum?  Do you want to study voice in Austria?  Design in Denmark? Anime in Japan?
What makes you happy?  Order? Chaos? Stringent rules?  Laissez faire attitude? Are you liberal or conservative?  Are you religious, and would you be ok living in a country without your religion?  Do you mind being stared at?  Would you enoy living in an apartment in a crowded city?  Would you be happy living in a country where women aren’t treated as men’s equals?  (About 4 years ago a female pilot sat next to a student and me.  The girl asked “Women can be pilots in your country?” with awe.)
 You have to talk with current and former exchange students both here and abroad.  For example, you wish to learn French, so you put France as your first choice country.  You’ve already graduated high school, are very gregarious, and want a fun year.  I may try to tell you that perhaps Belgium is a better choice for you.  The Seniors in France are all studying like mad for the BAC’s, they have to do well to get into a good college.  Students in France may go to school 5.5 days a week, from early morning until 5 or 6, then they study.  They may go out with friends once a week.  Most students are placed in small villages, so it’s difficult to make friends or go anywhere.  In Belgium, school isn’t so difficult, the placements are in urban areas with public transportation, and it’s a more ‘fun’ exchange.   Perhaps the people are more flexible, patient, and tolerant with Americans as well.  You have to do research to find what is right for you.  As a longtime volunteer, I’m pretty good at talking to kids and telling them ‘You’re an Asia’ or whatever. We do NOT place students in countries that they don’t want to go to, and we will place students in countries that we feel isn’t a good fit.  We explain to the student and parents why we don’t recommend a country for that student, but it’s the kid’s year, and his/her choice.

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