I just got back from Geneva and wow…what a way to kick off 2019. I’ve spent a week hiking through the snow, conversing in French and meeting so many incredible people who have given me a lot to reflect on and have undeniably shaped the person that I want to become. For the first time, I felt 16- I got to be the person who I’ve always wanted to be at this stage in my life and I’m going forward with her ‘can-do’ attitude and lack of stress. By taking part in exchanges, I’ve learnt, not only so much about other cultures, but also about myself.
I’ve been fortunate enough to host 4 exchange students (although, not at the same time) whilst I’ve been at my current school and I’ve loved doing it even more than I’d initially expected. I’ve always been really open to the idea and have always seen it in a positive light. However, I’ve watched my school struggle to find enough hosts for every exchange.
Occasionally, I think it might be a cultural difference between my household and other families here, as I find that my creole side of the family are much more willing to open their home to people and will always put you up if you’re visiting.
Many people that I go to school with have said that they wouldn’t want to go to another country and live in someone else’s house…and fair enough, that’s completely justified. But, I’ve found that hosting students is just as rewarding so I wanted to share the things I learnt from my experiences of hosting a foreign exchange student.
Language isn’t a barrier unless you make it one
I hosted a lovely and incredibly funny Italian girl whilst she was in England for a debating competition. Bear in mind, not one member of my immediate family knows a word of Italian, other than ‘ciao’. You can still have a connection with someone even if they speak broken English (or vice versa) and I’ve never cried so much with laughter with anybody else.
There’s more than one way to do something right
Sounds pretty straightforward, but what I mean by that subheading is that: you can have the same core values as someone else, but can live them and articulate them in completely different ways. It makes you so much more aware of the lifestyle choices that you have.
My Hugh Grant moment (bookish Brit meets the lovable American)
Now, everyone knows that English people aren’t the most comfortable about talking about taboo issues- or anything remotely personal for that matter (hence the constant talking about the weather and drinking tea so we don’t have to have a proper conversation). But when I hosted C. (we’ll call her that), an American living in Canada, I had never felt so at ease with a new person. I felt like I could be myself straight way and I realised that I don’t have to be reserved with people when I first meet them.
We ended up talking about things that I daren’t discuss with my friends and (as a 13-year-old girl at the time) without any sisters, it was eye-opening and comforting to be able to openly talk to a 16-year-old who had experienced more than me. At the time, I saw her as the teenage girl I’d grown up seeing in movies and she became a massive role model for me. She has so much confidence and just radiates joy- I loved every second with her because it was like having an older sister or cousin with me. I owe so much to her because, as my first exchange partner, she gave me the confidence to keep putting myself out there.
You have to be confident enough to make mistakes
There’s no other way to learn a language, you can’t be too afraid to try and say sentences that you’ve never said before or get hung up about perfect grammar. This is something that I realised on my most recent exchange, I’m passionate about French and learning languages and because of that, I was initially scared to make mistakes- in a sort of protective way. I got over that though…and I’m so glad about it because it made everything twice as enjoyable.
You never know who you’re going to meet and what you’re going to learn, and that’s half the fun of it.