Wry Exchange

Outbound Application Advice
09-25-07, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program, Exchange Students | Tags: , , , ,

Essay responses- Think ‘Small words, short sentences.’  You are writing this for people in other countries.  You will be interviewed here, but you will be competing in another country for a good club and host family.  Your goal is to look attractive, so your application is chosen first, not assigned last.   People who read this will speak English as a second or third language.   They will read and reread these essays.  Please be concise.  Don’t try to impress us with your vocabulary.  (I know 2 or 3 sentences aren’t an essay.  Work with me.)

  • Religion is important to some of our students, but we are a secular program.  It’s acceptable to mention your religion, but only in one, maybe 2 answers.  Please don’t include religious icons or books in your photos.
  • Don’t use acronyms or shorthand.  ‘POD,’ ‘Youth Group, or ‘Pep band’ don’t really mean anything to someone in another country.
  • Your essay answers should be no more than 3 pages, single spaced, but at least 2 pages. Use a normal font size.  Don’t try to hide short responses with a large font.  No one wants to read a tiny font because you can’t condense your answers, either.
  • Don’t write the questions out, but do number your answers.  All students worldwide complete the same application, we know the questions.  If you include the questions, we just think you’re trying to take up space.

Some typical essay answers.

  • Tell us about school and your interests.  This question covers classes.  If you’re taking college classes, explain that you are still in high school, and it’s a special program for advanced students.
  • Tell us about activities. Choose a variety of 3 or 4, then elaborate on 1 or 2 of them.  You want to seem well-rounded with an interest in a wide variety of activities such as dance, drama, a particular sport, debate, computer programming, scuba diving, stamp collecting, 4-H, Scouting, etc.
  • What are your future plans?  “I plan on attending college and study ____.   Because_____.”
  • Why do you want to be an exchange student? Good responses include wanting to learn a new language, meet new people, learn a new way of life, or travel.  Not-I want to teach other people about my culture and the USA.  You’re going to learn, not teach.
  • What are your parents occupations?  Confusing answer: My mother works on the line at Smyrna.  Huh?  Instead-my mother assembles car doors for Nissan.  No-My father is a contractor.  Try-My housing contractor father builds and remodels  houses. 
  • Tell us about trips you’ve taken out of the country.  ‘Several short trips to Canada’ is fine, but not tons of details about you, Grandpa, and cousin Jethro driving the old pickup to Niagara Falls for a few hours.    If you’ve travelled extensively in the US, tell us.  Remember, several other countries are smaller than your state.
  • What don’t you like? typically-spiders, snakes, mushrooms, cats.  not a good idea-smokers, small children, pets.
  • What are your strengths?  Good answers-patient, tolerant, responsible, social, funny, smart, easygoing, brave, willing to try new things.
  • What are your weaknesses?  Good answers-procrastinator, focus until complete, not tidy. 
  • What do you do when you aren’t in school?  Include social activities, not that you stay at home alone on the computer.  If you have a part-time job, and will help pay for your year abroad-tell us here. 
  • Describe a typical school day.  “I wake up at 6:30am, shower, and eat breakfast.    I am taking college preparatory classes.  My school day begins at 8:00am, and ends at 2:20pm.  Each class is 45 minutes long, and we eat lunch in the school cafeteria.  My chosen classes include English 4, Spanish 4, US & World History, and Physics.”  Spell all words completely.  ‘Chosen’ classes lets them know you can pick what you study here, unlike many other countries.  ‘Shower’ lets them know you expect to bathe daily.
  • Describe your house.  “My home is a typical 2 story home.  We have 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room, dining, room, kitchen, and family room, along with the basement and attic.  We have a nice yard in the back.  I have my own room.  I do my homework either in my room or at the kitchen table.   My school is 1 mile away, and I drive to it.” Don’t brag about a huge house, or say I am fortunate to have my own room-you may share a room in your new country, and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  You also don’t want to seem spoiled. 
  • Tell us about your siblings. One or 2 sentence response.  Name, age, grade in school, college major, or job, and do they live at home?  If you have pets, write about them in one additional sentence.  People want to know if you’ll fit into their family.
  • Tell us about your community.  “I live in XXX, and our nearest large cities are XXX.  My community has XXX residents, and is known for XXX.  We have XXX industries, shopping, college or something here.”  Don’t say anything negative. 
  • What is your favorite book?  Pick a book, any book.  Harry Potter is fine.  “I don’t like to read” “I don’t have time to read” or “I only read comic books” aren’t acceptable.
  • What are the most serious problems affecting teenagers today?  With problems such as war, famine, poverty, AIDs, and global warming, please don’t choose your local school levy, smoking, chastity, or teen drinking.


  • They will scrutinize your photographs for the smallest details.  Be care about your background and objects laying around.  Label your photos.  Be clear the little girl you’re holding is your Goddaughter, not your daughter.  If you don’t have street clothing on, explain why you are in costume.  People who don’t read English well will judge you by your photos.
  • Front page head-shot-no hats, props, piercings, glamour shots, sports jerseys, large jewelry, cleavage, or t-shirts with graphics.  “Neat, clean, and serious, yet friendly” is the look you need.
  • Your email address should be professional, and easy to remember for people who don’t know English.  I prefer  yourname@hotmail.com or your_name@hotmail.comMrsBradPitt@xyxit.com or BadBoyz69@yermama.com aren’t acceptable.
  • English is not one of the languages you know. 
  • Do you smoke, drink, have a bf/gf?  If you’re smart, these are all ‘no’s.’  If you have a bf/gf, people assume you’ll spend all of your time being homesick or you’ll leave early.  In some cultures, teens don’t date.  People may not want to host a smoker as they may be afraid you’ll burn down the house.
  • Allergies vs. personal preferences.  Are you allergic to dogs or do you just hate them?  People are generally respectful of vegetarians, but most other ‘restrictions’ are looked at as preferences.  If you don’t like cats, but I can’t find another family for you, you may be living with Fluffy.  If you are allergic, I’ll keep looking.

Think of yourself as a product you are selling.  Your application should reflect the best you possible.  These essays are VERY different from college application essays.  Ask someone with your program to review your application before turning it in.  Their advice may differ significantly from your teachers.


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