Foreign-exchange visit: Flying the nest

Off the sofa and into the big, wide world. From the USA to Costa Rica and from Cambodia to Spain – those who discover a foreign country without their parents for the first time learn a lesson for life


There is a well-known quotation from Goethe’s novel Elective Affinities: “We don’t get to know people when they come to us; we must go to them to find out what they are like.” For Ursula Weißenfels that is not quite true. Over the past three years, she has received many guest students in her home from Brazil, Japan, Australia and Ecuador. As a result, she and her family have learned a great deal about other countries as well as their people and cultures. In turn, these encounters have encouraged her own children to spend some time overseas. In an interview, Ursula Weißenfels describes her experiences as a German guest mother.

Those who spend an extended period abroad learn not only about the locals, but also about themselves. First and foremost, young people who are far away from home for the first time learn to become independent. When Kristin-Noelle Krapp wanted to change her host family during her time in Costa Rica, she had to take matters into her own hands. Her mother could not really do anything to help from Germany, and the organisation was unreliable. In her words, “That was probably the most important experience for me.”

Based at a work camp in a small Cambodian village, Fiona Beckmann found out what it was like to cope in a very basic environment and to take on responsibility. She prepared lessons for students in the village together with other volunteers. Volunteering to work on a project with others must be the most intense way to learn about a country and the people who live there.

Laura Lütt also got to know the people around her in a very intensive experience. She spent a year in the United States, living right on the edge of the country next to the Canadian border. With a population of just 300 people, De Tour Village lies covered in snow for six months of the year, and the closest large town is almost 90 minutes away by car – so people get to know each other pretty well.

The fact that Spaniards have a different temperament to Germans is some­thing that Mert Kizilelma felt strongly during his exchange visit to Palma, Majorca. However, he did share a passion for football with his exchange partner Juan.

The world is growing smaller. Working abroad is becoming more and more a matter of course, and it is rather the rule than the exception for the next generation. But only those who are open-minded and independent when travelling the world can take full advantage of the opportunities that exist. And that means having more than just good language skills: the ability to adjust to a new and unfamiliar environment is crucial, but even more so is an open and tolerant attitude towards everything new. Those who gain such experience at a young age have the best preparation for later life.

Find out on the following pages what these young people experienced during their time abroad and the many possibilities that exist for a distant adventure even with a limited budget.

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Tips for foreign-exchange visit

Whether it´s a year abroad, language holidays, work camps or a scholarship we have picked a few useful tips and contacts for you.