Are you considering studying English (or another language) outside of your home country? You’ve probably thought about how it will improve your skills in another language. But have you considered the multitude (great number) of other benefits that an exchange offers you?
An exchange is so much more than a language learning experience—even though that it is a benefit that you can’t ignore.
In part one of this three part series on intercultural exchange, I talked about my personal experience studying abroad in Germany, Spain and Brazil. In part two, I discussed five reasons why you should want an exchange experience.
This article will focus on how you will positively change after having an exchange experience. With an exchange you will:
- A change in perspective of your own country and culture
- Break your preconceived stereotypes
- Increase your desire for knowledge
- Improve your resume
- Mature as a person
- Evolve international relations
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First, I wanted to give you some exchange related statistics (collected by The Institute for the International Education of Students, or IES, of students from 1950 until 1999):
- More than 80 percent of former exchange students agreed that studying abroad had enhanced (improved) their interest in academic study.
- 96 percent of students surveyed indicated that they believe study abroad increased their self-confidence.
- 97 percent said the experience enabled (helped) them to learn something new about themselves and served as a catalyst for increased maturity.
- 63 percent of students who studied abroad in the 1950s and 1960s are still in contact with friends they made overseas.
If you would like to know more, check out IES’s great article, which has even more study abroad statistics.
Be sure to keep these figures in mind while reading the rest of the article.
Change Your Perspective on Your Own Country
Are you nationalistic? Do you think that you live in the best country in the world and that it has the best people and government?
Or do you believe that your country is a failure? That the people of your land are cold, uneducated, or rude? Or that your government has no idea how to run the country and is only driving it into ruins (destroying it)?
Whatever your idea is of your country, it will surely change when you come home from your time abroad (outside of your home country).
To be honest, I’ve never been a patriot (a nationalistic American). As I mentioned in Part I, after living in Germany, I felt more negative towards my own country, but I was young and this was a naïve view.
In Germany, I found that people my age were more mature.
I also loved how conscious everyone was about the environment (ambient)—they recycled everything they could, they drove smaller cars, and they never left a light on if they weren’t in a room.
When I came back to the States, I didn’t understand how people could drive around in such unnecessarily huge cars, leave lights on in every room in the house (I would yell at my parents to turn them off), and leave all of the appliances plugged in.
I don’t think that changing my view of the U.S. in this way was necessarily a bad thing, but I could have responded in a more positive way, rather than getting angry at people. I had a new perspective that other people couldn’t understand, because they hadn’t had the same experience as me.
Now I’m older and more mature, so I’ve viewed my other experiences, in Spain and now here in Brazil, with more understanding. I have been able to reflect on the positive aspects of the United States, rather than just focus on the negative.
I think this is one of the most important things to consider upon your return to your home country.
To read more about how my perspective changed on the U.S. because of Study Abroad, click here.
The Stereotypes Aren’t True
Everyone that studies abroad learns that the stereotypes they’ve heard about a certain country or countries aren’t true. EVERYONE.
I talked about my preconceptions of Germany in Part I of the series. I heard that Germans are cold, rude, and angry. I think whoever started this rumor based it off of one of Hitler’s speeches.
When I was living there, I found things to be exactly the opposite. Most Germans are very friendly. They love foreigners. They adored that I was learning German. They are extremely fun people to hang out with, and they love a good party (just like Brazilians, Americans, Spaniards – people in general).
So, it’s no wonder that I fell in love with Germany. The people are wonderful, and people are the most important thing. As I said in Part II, the number one part of exchange is the life long friends that you make.
Spain and Brazil
There are similar negative stereotypes about Spaniards and Brazilians: they are party animals, they don’t work hard, they are lazy, and they are always naked or having sex.
None of these are true. Spaniards and Brazilians work and study extremely hard, more so than many Americans I know. They only party on the weekends, during vacations or festivals, and never before an exam.
People think Spaniards are lazy because of the “Siesta” (businesses close during the hottest part of the day so people can nap). But if there is something important to do, they skip the Siesta. And people usually work later when it is cooler out. This does not mean they are lazy.
As far as promiscuity, it’s no more common than in any other country I’ve lived in.
The positive stereotypes are all more than true. Spaniards and Brazilians are extremely warm and friendly. Brazilians have a sense of unrequited hospitality; they help you whether or not you ask for it, and they go above and beyond, even if they don’t know you that well. Few Americans that you don’t know well would do this, and if they did, they would probably want something in return.
In Brazil, if a friend sends you to stay at his family’s house in another city, you’re treated like family. If you need help finding an apartment, they’ll make calls for you and go with you to talk to the proprietor.
Even the customs here in Brazil support this. When you go to a bar, you share a bottle of beer with your friends, and every time you want to fill your glass, you fill theirs first, even if their cup is almost full. On the bus, if you’re standing, someone who is sitting will always offer to hold your bag for you (even though they don’t know you!).
In Spain, my friends took care of me like a younger brother. They are some of the best people I’ve met in the world.
In these two countries, I’ve always had someone’s help when I needed it.
Are you interested in more gringo stereotypes of Brazilians? Click here.
Another experience I’ve had that greatly changed a perspective was when I had an Arabic roommate for a few months. He was an exchange student and he had several other Arabic friends that would often come hang out at our house.
I didn’t know much about the culture, but I knew that Islam made life stricter in Saudi Arabia. For some reason, I thought that life there must be boring because of this strictness (obviously part of this is because of the stereotypes of Muslim countries held in the United States).
In the U.S., and also in the other countries I’ve lived in, alcohol is a part of the culture. Drinking is a social instrument. This doesn’t mean that drinking alcohol is a good thing, but it’s what I’m accustomed to. Everywhere I’ve ever lived it’s common to have a couple beers and chat with friends.
So I had no idea of what Muslims would do to have fun with their friends. My roommate and his friends were all very friendly and welcomed us to hang out with them. They would bring over snacks and pizza and share them with us. And they had a big hookah (nargüile). They would sit around the living room smoking, eating, chatting, joking and laughing… just like Americans, Spaniards, and Brazilians. But instead of beer, they drank Sprite, and instead of consuming alcohol, they’d smoke tobacco.
The Saudi Arabians I met were very friendly, and they certainly knew how to have fun.
From all of these experiences, I learned that no matter what country and culture people originate from, they are all much more similar than they are different. People are people first, and their nationality and culture come second. Human needs and desires are the same, the customs are different.
Increase Your Desire for Knowledge
In Part I, I asked the question, “Where would I be had I never studied abroad?”
My exchange in Germany brought alive a new thirst in me: a desire to learn new languages, to know and experience new cultures, and to meet people from different parts of the world. My interests would certainly be very different had I not had that first exchange experience.
Many people discover their purpose after studying abroad. A large amount of university students even change their area of study (In the U.S. we call this your major).
If you’re lost on what to do with your life, what to study, or what job you want to pursue, then I highly recommend you get out of your country and see the world. At the very least, you’ll want to learn more about a new language, a culture, and a history.
Nothing will make you grow up (become an adult) like all of the lessons you’ll learn being thrown into a new culture. Whereas before everything was easy (and boring) because you had the help of your family and you spoke the language fluently, now in your exchange experience everything that seemed so routine before will become challenging.
You’ll have to figure out how to use a new public transportation system, and ask for help and directions in a new language. You’ll make mistakes daily because of misunderstandings, but these mistakes will help you learn. It’ll be better for you to ask a lot of questions than to get lost or be confused, even if you feel embarrassed.
If you choose not to live with a host family, you’ll also have other responsibilities. Maybe you’re used to your mom or dad doing the chores around the house. But now it will be your responsibility to buy groceries, to cook and clean. And the food probably won’t be what you’re used to. Maybe you’ll find that you screw up (do something wrong) cooking spaghetti, something that you thought was easy.
You’ll learn to laugh at all these little mistakes, and you’ll learn and become more responsible because of them. You’ll come home ready to overcome any situation.
More and more companies are seeking (procuring) multilingual employees. This is especially important in countries like Brazil, where English is not commonly spoken. After an exchange, your language and communication skills will be so much better.
Someone who has only studied English in their home country won’t be comfortable speaking with native speakers. But after an exchange, you will be because you’ve already faced the awkwardness and discomfort of being forced to speak English. You’ll use colloquial language, so you’ll be easily understood.
A company is going to see you as a valuable resource because of what you learned on your exchange about the culture. You’ll know more than just grammar. And you’ll have a greater worldview.
After your exchange, make sure to discuss what you learned from it. Not just from your language or university classes, but also from being immersed in a strange new culture, having to communicate and overcome embarrassment, and coming out of your shell (escaping shyness) in order to make friends.
Cultural Exchange and International Relations
I studied International Relations (IR) in college. IR students are strongly recommended to study abroad, because it changes one’s view so strongly.
From my personal experience, I believe that if everyone studied abroad, IR would function more smoothly and there would be no war. This is because we’d all realize how similar we are to each other. No one is going to kill someone if they think that person is exactly like them. But we justify murder because of social difference. Which, as I said before, makes no sense to me because we are all much more similar as human beings than we are different as Americans, Brazilians, Arabs, etc.
If you’re interested in learning more, then check out this awesome article from the United States’ Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State, Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, wrote about how study abroad not only changes your life, but can also change your country.
I hope this three-part article has been useful to you and is an inspiration for you to start working towards the goal of doing an exchange.
You’ve heard my story, and some of my best memories from my exchanges. I’ve told you some great reasons why you should study abroad, and now you know how it will benefit you even after you return home.
Whether you can only go for three week or if you can go for three years, an exchange will be a part of your life that you will NEVER forget. It will benefit you, your view of the world, your relationships with people (wherever they may come from), and your professional life. An exchange experience will set you apart from the rest. I promise that you won’t regret it.
If you liked this article, be sure to like it and share it. I’d love to hear about your exchange experience and if you related at all to mine. Please comment in the box down below. Now get out there and experience the world!