Trine from Denmark, Jakob from Germany, Flo from Finland. They were all remarkably charming, albeit timid at times, and somehow all very good at tennis. They were also all foreign exchange students at my high school in Indiana.
Why the thought never crossed my mind to follow their lead and study abroad during high school is beyond me. With ample opportunities popping up every day, it is a wonder I did not spend a semester in Argentina with Greenheart Travel or a summer in Spain with LPI Abroad. I guess a life without regret is a life not lived!
According to the Annual Statistics Report for International Youth Exchange by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), in the 2010-2011 school year nearly 2000 high school students packed up their bags to study abroad. Though the most popular destinations for U.S. high school students remain to be Germany (385), France (171), Italy (129), Japan (108), and Brazil (103), there is increased participation in programs offered in Asia, most notably in China (85). This number is down, however, from a 2005 peak of 2600 U.S. high school students studying abroad. It would seem likely that economic reasons have played a role here since studying abroad in high school is admittedly a luxury.
It's also interesting to note that in 2010, 29,000 foreign exchange students came to the U.S. to study abroad in high school. This is an increase from 26,000 students in 2005. It's hard to make sense of these trends as the United States continues to fall in world education rankings.
Few would argue that studying abroad offers experiences as unique and different as the students embarking on the journey. Let’s take a closer look. Two students, American Noah Langholz and Spaniard Jorge Moro Deiguesca, offer comparative reflections of their study abroad experiences during high school.
Meet Noah Langholz, an American high school senior from South Pasadena, California. Noah is reflecting on his experience studying abroad in Torcy, France, a suburb of Paris. Although the city itself was not very exciting, its proximity to the City of Lights allowed for frequent visits and cultural immersion. Noah spent the year living with a host family on a house boat on the Marne, a river that intersects with the Seine.
And on the other side -- Jorge Moro Deiguesca, a high school student from Zaragoza, Spain. Jorge traveled to the USA to spend a year studying in Eads, Tennessee, just east of Memphis.
Andrea: What was your home-stay experience like?
Noah: Living on a houseboat was definitely a unique experience. The boat was originally a WWII barge, which was just an empty shell until it was restored by my host family. My bedroom was basically a closet, so I really only used it to sleep in. This forced me to hang out in the common room of the boat with my host family. As a result, I got to know them really well, much better than I would have had I spent most of my time in my room. My family was lenient about some things, and strict about others. For example, I had to be careful about coming home late, since getting to my bedroom required walking across the steal roof of the boat, which made a loud noise that woke other people up. Living with a family definitely involved some compromises, but overall I still had a lot of independence.
Jorge: My host family was originally from Indiana. My host father worked as an engineer for an automobile company, while my host mother was a stay at home mom for their son and daughter. I only got to spend time with them at home when I wasn’t in school and on a few vacation trips.
Andrea: Tell me about your experience at a [French/American] high school.
Noah: I was a senior in high school back home, but in France I took classes as a junior. I did this to avoid having to study for the Baccalaureate test, which French students take in their senior year. The French educational system is very different from the American system, and was somewhat hard to adjust to. Students were expected to be at school every day between 8:30 and 5:30, and the environment was less fun and communal than my high school at home. Learning French was also difficult at first, and was definitely a trial by fire method of learning. In my high school in France, I was the only American exchange student. Overall, AFS made an effort to connect all of the exchange students in the greater Paris area. There were about 30 of us total, and we met at events that AFS hosted. About 5 to 10 were from the United States, and others came from countries ranging from Malaysia and China, to Germany and Norway.
Jorge: Going to an American High school was exactly what I saw first in movies. I was so amazed by how things were not exaggerated at all. High school in America was amazing, but I have to say it was also extremely easy. I am so concerned about the poor level of the lessons in American Public High schools, or at least in the south. The fact that people didn't really know anything about my country was very shocking to me.
Andrea: What were some of the more difficult aspects of studying abroad?
Noah: Getting my high school on board with studying abroad was a bit of a challenge. The administration was pretty resistant at first, but I pushed hard for the chance to go. In the end, they decided that if I finished all of my high school requirements before I left, I could go. I completed my last high school requirement, an English composition class, at a community college the summer before I left. I know that many high schools are not quite as accommodating as mine, and many students who go abroad in high school end up having to repeat a year of school. I also had to think ahead about applying to college. I filled out all of my applications the summer before I left so I wouldn’t have to worry about it while I was there.
Jorge: At first, of course, the language. But once you catch it, after 3 or 4 months, it got very easy. I think the hardest thing for me was to study after school, since we had to start it at 7:00 AM and the school bus would pick me up at 5:45 AM. This is a crazy idea for a Spaniard, to start a day so early.
Andrea: Would you recommend studying abroad to other high school students?
Noah: I had a great experience and learned a lot, and I have never heard anyone say that studying abroad was a negative experience. However, studying abroad in high school is definitely not for everyone. I would say that the program you choose makes a big difference, and AFS was great choice for me.
Jorge: I think people who are considering studying abroad should first think language wise. Pick a country where the language that you are more interested in is spoken. Don't pick a place just for proximity, having fun, or other secondary reason. You will have a great experience anywhere you go, plus you will learn a new language forever.
From America to France, or Spain to America, Jorge and Noah agree on one thing: studying abroad is rarely an experience that students regret. It is still important to pick a program that fits your needs and desires, as well as plan ahead. While it may take a little effort, students will share the “it was totally worth it” sentiment from the moment their plane lands in a new country.
Ready? Explore high school programs abroad.Photo Credits: IES Abroad and Noah Langholz.