Going on a Year Abroad in High School - Pros and Cons
If you are (or your kid is) thinking about doing a high school year abroad, here are some good and bad things about that from someone who has experienced it all first-hand.
It is a well-known fact that you can go abroad for a year in university or college and, in fact, a lot of people do do that. What, as I find, not everybody knows, is that you can also go on a year abroad in high school. This used to just work if your school had a sort of partner school somewhere else and someone was willing to swap places with you, which is why these years are often called exchange years. However, nowadays, you can just go on your own or more commonly with the help of one of many companies out there who offer such programmes.
I personally went on a year abroad when I was 15 and I spent a year in Ireland. My family has also hosted (aka taken in) two exchange students in the past, so I do have some experience. And I believe that there are some major pros and cons to go studying abroad by yourself at such a young age that you (or your parents) might want to consider before making your final decision:
- Con: You might not be able to travel as much.
- This especially applies when you are as young as I was. But when you are abroad, you are going to want to travel and get to know your host country (the place you are going) better. And you can be really lucky, if your host family takes you on trips with them or maybe the organisation you are with organises something, but most of the time, you will have to organise that kind of stuff yourself. The issue with that when you are quite young is that some hotels won't let you stay there without and adult and some airlines won't let you fly by yourself, which can make the whole thing a bit harder. Furthermore, some year abroad organisations can be an incredible pest about letting you go somewhere overnight by yourself.
- Despite that though, I still managed to go on quite a few trips (mostly just day trips, but still) when I was in Ireland. It required a bit more effort than it would have if I had been older or if I had gone abroad when in uni and I didn't get to see everything I wanted, but it was still great.
- Pro: You will make friends from all over the world.
- I cannot stress this point enough. It is the best thing ever. So as an exchange student, you will most likely get to know loads of other exchange students and you will become instant friends. That is just what happens. And it is amazing. Not only do you then have people you can visit all over the world, but you also learn so much more about other cultures and become open-minded in a way you cannot become without these kinds of experiences. It is honestly just absolutely amazing.
- Con: It might be harder for you to leave your family and friends.
- Yes, it is always going to be hard to leave your family and friends, but I feel like it is a bit harder when you are younger. This is especially the case because, for most people, it is the first time they are leaving their home and for the first time to be for such a long time and to be so far away from the get go can be quite challenging. If you went on a year abroad from uni on the other hand, it might not be as hardbecause you might already be used to being away from your family.
- Nonetheless, saying good-bye to people is always really hard and on an exchange year, you will have to do it twice: once when you leave home and once when you go back.
- Additionally: Things like FaceTime and Skype are great. They actually make you feel like the person you are talking to is there with you and can really help with homesickness.
- Pro: You will be ahead of your peers:
- No matter where you go, how long you stay and how you spend your time there, when you come back from a year abroad, you will be ahead of your peers. You will be more independent, more confident, more open-minded, more organised and so many other things. Yes, spending a year abroad can and will be challenging at times, but making it through all that by yourself at such a young age teaches you lessons that none of your peers will learn until much later and some might not even learn these lessons at all.
- Con: Coming back might be hard.
- This, I think, kind of stems from the previous fact about being ahead of your peers. Now, some people are absolutely fine when they come back, they just carry on as before and there are no problems whatsoever. But I and a few other people I know did have problems fitting in when we came back home after our year abroad. In a way, this is just because you will have evolved so much in that one year, while everyone back home probably hasn't changed a lot in comparison, so you might not feel comfortable with the same people.
- Coming back in general is something most people don't really consider when deciding to go on a year abroad (I know I definitely didn't) and I just wanted to make you aware that for some people, that's the hardest part of their year. Reverse culture shock is a real thing.
- Pro: It will look good on your CV, which might help to get into college/university.
- I think this one is kind of obvious, but yes, most universities will know about all those qualities and skills you acquire on a year abroad and they do recognise and value that. And if they don't, market yourself. Make them aware.
- A year abroad shows you are independent, flexible, you can adapt to new situations, you are organised, communicative (don't worry if you have trouble with any of that now, you'll develop all those kinds of skills once you are actually on your way), etc.
- Con: The curriculum in your host country might be very different from that in your home country.
- So, shocker, school systems aren't the same everywhere... The only reason I put this in here is that school curricula can often vary a lot more than those of universities. How much they differ obviously depends on where you are from and where you are going. I personally wouldn't worry too much about that though since most people are fine grades-wise when abroad as well as once they come back and reintegrate into their school.
- Just make sure you know if there are any subjects your home school requires you to take while abroad and whether you need to get any specific grades.
- I know the Canadian girl who stayed with my family in Austria for a year also took some classes online while she was with us, so you might want to look into that.
- Oh and this fully depends on your country, but not every country will count the year you spent abroad. Some countries require you to repeat that year. I personally didn't have to and most of my exchange student friends didn't have to either, but look into it before you make a decision.
- Pro: You might become fluent in a different language.
- Again, this kind of depends on where you are from and where you are going, but if you re going to a country where they speak a different language from your mother tongue, you will most likely at least become better at speaking that language. Acquiring such skills at a young age is not only really good for you personally, but apparently, it is also easier. So you might just have an easier time picking up a language in high school than you would in university.
- How much you improve your language skills really just depends on you, how talented you are and how much effort you put in. I personally knew English before going to Ireland but I became much more fluent and confident while I was there and now actually use English as my primary language for most of the year. Similarly, but much more impressive, a student from Chile who stayed with my family, did not know any German when he arrived and was basically fluent when he left. My Canadian friend, who I mentioned earlier, on the other hand, only learned some basic German. It just depends.
- Pro: It is an invaluable experience you will be able to learn from and cherish for the rest of your life.
- So I know this is all about pros and cons and so far, I've been trying to give you guys a balanced view but since I did a high school year abroad, I obviously think it's a good thing.
- For me personally, it just changed my life to the better. I just know that I learned so much from having an experience like this at such and early age and I could not imagine what my life would be like right now if I did not go through with it.
- Yes, there were some times that were incredibly hard and I was so very scared to go before I actually did it, but in the end, it was all worth it. This sounds super cheesy, but I honestly just think that my high school year abroad shaped me so much as a person and made me so much better, I will forever be grateful for having had this experience.
- Also, in case you care, coming to university after all that was honestly so easy, especially compared to how much I've seen some of my peers struggle with the transition, so that's cool too.