Wry Exchange

How Not to Write an Application
11-14-08, 3:01 am
Filed under: Outbounds Outbounds | Tags:

  Do you smoke, drink, or do drugs?: “Yes.”
Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? “Yes.”
Describe your weak points:  “I really can’t think of any.”
Describe your classes: “I’m taking Algebra one because I failed the 9th grade state graduation test.”
Describe your strengths: “I’m a leader.” (When the rest of the application shows absolutely no leadership qualities or positions.)  “Languages.” (So why did you receive C’s in foreign languages the last 3 years?)
Have you ever travelled outside the US?: “One weekend 2 Summers ago, my Uncle Floyd took me, my Grandma J, my cousin Jethro, and my little brother Bodine to Niagara Falls in his red Ford truck.  It was really fun!  We spent the whole weekend in Canada, and on and on.”
Why do you want to be an exchange student?:  “I want to teach people in other countries about the best country in the world.”  “I want to share my religion.”
Where do you want to go and why?-“England, because I know the language.”  “Germany-they have castles.”
What is your favorite book?-“I don’t like books.”  “I only read comic books. “Manga.”
What do you enjoy?-“Sleeping.”
What bothers you?-“Little kids.”  “Meateaters.” “People telling me what to do.”
What are your hobbies? “I love to play WoW for hours and hours.”


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.

Outbound Application Hints-Why 3 Countries?
09-13-07, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: , , ,

We ask students to list 3 countries they want to go to as part of their application.  The students must write a paragraph about why they chose each country.   We ask for 3 countries for many reasons. 

  • Most important to Husband and me are flexibility and ability to follow directions.  We think it’s a red flag if a student wants one country only.  Exchange students can’t be rigid.  We tell the students upfront that ‘Everything is a test.’   Even if your heart is set on Slovakia, you should have the Czech Republic and maybe Hungary as your second and third choices.   If you can’t remember to write 3 paragraphs for an important interview, how can you survive abroad? 
  • We also try to group the students by country or continent for interviews.  If we only have one slot for Japan, the person who interviews the best and has the strongest application will go to Japan.  We’ll probably have someone familiar with Japan on that interview team, too.
  • We want to see your thought process.  Why did you choose those particular countries?  What links the countries?  Don’t write something generic such as ‘I like history’, ‘My friend went there, and loved it’, ‘My Spanish teacher told me it’s the best’ or ‘I heard the culture’s great.’
  • Have you done any research? Brasil is a great place to explore your African-American heritage.   Argentina is NOT in Europe.  Brasilians don’t speak Spanish.  Don’t embarass yourself.  We don’t expect you to be an expert, but we do expect you to spell the country’s name correctly.
  • We want to see a sample of your writing.  Can you express yourself clearly and concisely?

The students are not held to their country selection even on interview day. They typically have 2-3 weeks after interviews to finalize their country choice.  We try to place each student in their number one choice.  (More on placements in a later post.)

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.