Why you should become an exchange student

The 2023/24 LRHS exchange students at the Homecoming Dance in October. From left to right: Ines Hernandez from Spain (junior), Elsa Hermann from Germany (junior), Salma Mekki from France (junior), Rebeka Mayerova from the Czech Republic (junior), Linh Vu from Norway (junior at Clayton High School), Daniela Freund from Germany (junior). (Photo Courtesy of Elsa Hermann)

Every year LRHS hosts international exchange students who spend 10 months in Raleigh with their host families. This year there are 5 students, including me, who are spending junior year at LRHS to enjoy the American high school experience with everything around it. 

I am Elsa Hermann, and I came all the way from Germany this August. I am spending the school year with my wonderful host family who does everything for me to have the best experience. The program that makes this stay possible is AFS which is a non-profit organization. 

The other exchange students at Leesville are from all over Europe and arrived last summer. Everyone has been enjoying their program so far and is happy to be a part of the LRHS community for this school year. 

Salma Mekki, a junior and an exchange student from France, is very happy with her decision to have come here and especially enjoys the American high school life. 

“I love my exchange year and it was the best decision that I’ve ever made but the best part is definitely the school because of all the activities like clubs, sports, seeing friends. I feel like a real American at school,” said Mekki. 

Mekki encourages every student to do an exchange year while still in high school and is convinced that it will be a great experience for everyone. 

“Everybody should become an exchange student because it is an amazing experience, you will have a second family in another country and you are going to meet so many great people,” said Mekki. 

When asked what advice she has for future students on exchange, she answered: “You should really try to be involved in the school life, even if you don’t play a sport, you should just try it or join clubs to be integrated.”

Finally, Mekki added with a smile: “You got this, and you will live the best year of your life. Enjoy every minute because it is over so soon and just have fun.”

Becoming an exchange student includes many steps and a long procedure of applying for it. The financial aspect of it can also be the reason why students decide not to go abroad.

However, there are many ways to make that dream possible whether it is for a few weeks or an entire year. There are a number of scholarships, including full-ride scholarships, that cover all the financial costs. 

Besides all the organizing and financing, there are many reasons why you should go abroad and become an exchange student. 

As an exchange student, you experience a completely different lifestyle than the one you are used to. This helps you to learn more about a new culture and way of living. You get the opportunity to expand your global perspective and understanding. 

Leaving your own home can be or seem hard since you leave your family and all of your friends behind for a year. This can, on the other hand, be an opportunity for you to grow from this as a person. 

You will go out of your comfort zone which helps you become more independent and adaptable to multiple situations. You will come back home as a different person since you gained tolerance and openness. 

An exchange year is also a great opportunity for students to try new things that they haven’t done before. It is not only a great way to make new friends but also a possibility to broaden your horizons and gain new experiences.

I used the chance to try Lacrosse as a new sport which has been the best decision for me. I got to meet a lot of new people and was able to connect on a different level with them since we have something in common. 

Going to school is a big part of the exchange which shows that the year is not a vacation but much more a life. It is amazing to see a different school system that gives you the opportunity to learn more about global education and to compare daily school life to yours at home.

A special part about a whole year abroad is definitely the overall process of building your own new life. You get to start from zero and can determine what things you want to try out or what people you want to become friends with. 

Daniela Freund, a junior who came from Germany, mentions the challenges that come along with building your new life in a foreign country. “My biggest challenge so far has been the language barrier in the first couple of months. I didn’t get the jokes in the beginning, but now I can even make the jokes,” said Freund. 

She agrees that everybody should become an exchange student. “It’s not a year in your life –it’s a life in one year. That’s a very cheesy quote, but it’s so true,” said Freund, emphasizing the realness of an exchange year and how passionate she is about her year abroad.

Just like Mekki, Freund especially enjoys going to school in another country. “High school sports, clubs, and meeting new people has been my favorite part so far,” said Freund.

Making friends is one of the most important aspects of an exchange year which will most likely happen in school. Not only do you get to enjoy deep friendships in another country but also friendships with people from all over the world that could last a lifetime.

The most amazing thing about my exchange year has been becoming part of an American family and sharing my culture and values with them. I get to experience real US teenage life firsthand by living with a host family. They, soon after arrival, became my home and my second family to whom I can always come back to. 

A year abroad will teach you a lot that can definitely help you in your future life when applying for college or a new job. It is always good to know another language and to have a wider global understanding and international experience. 

After your exchange experience, you will see your home country again with different eyes. When coming back, you will learn to appreciate old habits, your friends and family or traditions even more. On the other hand, you can compare two completely different cultures and find things that you like better in your host country. 



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