Cultural exchanges are ways to go abroad and learn about the culture and sometimes stay in one place for a more extended period of time. Similar to the Art of Slow Travel I wrote about, they can give you a more in-depth understanding of a culture, people, and country.
There is more interest in these types of programs these days and for good reason. It allows you to have a base or home or focus while abroad. Feeling like you adapt to a new city or town is a little easier when you have a purpose for being there.
What Are Cultural Exchanges?
Cultural exchanges are usually programs that facilitate people meeting from different cultures. An example would be a group volunteering to build a house in a foreign country. Or participate in a cultural festival, such as a group of musicians. Homestays are common.
Benefits of a Cultural Exchange
What matters most is how you can grow from the experience. Traveling abroad is complex, forcing you out of your comfort zone. The simple things in life can seem like challenges, but what you do in these moments can help you evolve as a person. You will get to know yourself, see your reactions, correct how you express yourself, and open your eyes to other ways of doing things.
Learning these skills will help you in life anywhere you are. Having to change your habits, whether good or not so good, will change you. Sometimes when you leave to travel, you have no idea what you will face, but going and dealing with your fear can make you stronger in any life decision.
Culture is made up of people, traditions, customs, and language. Being exposed to a different culture can give you an appreciation and respect for how others live. It may be different from what you are used to, but we are all humans in the end. There are reasons behind what we all do; seeing if from a different cultural perspective is eye-opening.
Going to festivals, outdoor markets, concerts, or the local store can be enriching. How do people dress? What are the popular styles? How many generations live in the same house? There is so much to explore.
Learning about other cultures and why people are the way they are because of their country’s history can allow you to see that it just makes sense. When you understand this, it makes you see clearer. Some differences in people are indeed cultural differences. Depending on the issue, you can compromise without losing your identity if you have the mindset.
Making friends with others from other cultures can be life-long, and it is a bond that comes from the experiences you shared, especially when you were in a time of such personal growth. These people can leave lasting impressions on you as they are part of you becoming who you are today.
Yes, traveling breaks your bubble. The best example is looking at a world map hanging in a school in Asia and seeing Asia in the center. It is logical that where the map is from and who will look at it is the people from those countries, so their countries should be in the center. But your perspective shifts when you are only used to seeing your country in the center. You realize that you, your town, your city, and your country are just among many.
With that being said, when you have been abroad, one of the most essential things you come back with is an appreciation for what you have. Going abroad gives you this perspective, and there would be a lot less complaining in life if everyone went abroad, at least for some time.
What Is a Homestay?
While there are a variety of cultural exchanges to choose from, the one with a different level of immersion is a homestay.
Homestays are when you live in a family’s home for your time abroad, and you have a room and are usually included as one of the family. This comes down to personal preference: staying at a family’s home is best for you versus a hotel, but the benefits can be advantageous.
Experience of Daily Life
When you travel abroad, sometimes details in daily life can say so much about a country. When is the biggest meal of the day? Do they cook everything from scratch? How are the houses designed? How are the decorations? Of course, this can vary with the family, but when you live with a family, you can experience firsthand some customs that you may not realize otherwise.
Families are Vetted
To be a host family, they must be interviewed and meet all necessary requirements depending on the program. Many families continually host students, so they are used to it. In most cases, the family will include you in activities and make it a point to show you around if you are interested. Seeing life through the locals is getting to know a country!
Traveling abroad always comes back to language, and having it enhances your trip, no doubt about it. So while living with a family, you are constantly around the language. You will hear more, try to express yourself, and have family members who try to help you. It is one of the fastest ways to learn a language, as this is immersion.
The Greatest Advantage Of Homestays
For me, the most significant advantage of homestays is that you can go at a younger age.
For example, my first real taste of traveling abroad came from a summer exchange program. In high school, students could select the top countries they would like to visit and apply for this exchange program.
With that, I lived at my host’s home, ate with the family, did activities with the family, and got to know the culture. I had a fantastic experience of staying with a family with kids my age, and they showed me the sights as we did everything together. I will never forget that time, as it made such a lasting impression on me.
Although I wasn’t there for the school year, if I had, I would have improved my language skills, made even more friends, and experienced more due to the length of time.
Being able to go abroad at such a young and impressionable age opened my eyes to other ways that people lived and piqued my interest in learning more. Curiosity is a great thing to have when you are young as you have less fear of going out and experiencing and learning.
Cultural Exchanges Are Worth It
There are so many outstanding programs out there for cultural exchanges. Homestays are also a great option depending on the flexibility and independence you look for. Whatever way you go about it, you will get as much out of it as you put into it!