Archive for the ‘Year Program’ Category


Live, dance, groove: Sharing culture through music

Music and dance are perhaps the most fun and energetic means of sharing culture. Naturally, we couldn’t resist documenting our exchange students’ killer dance moves and musical savvy!

Hours after arriving in the US for their exchange programs, AFS/YES students from around the world bonded with one another by demonstrating their cultures’ diverse musical traditions. Take a look and see what types of music and dance you might encounter on a YES Abroad program.

If nothing else, this will get you in the mood to move!

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You’re back from studying abroad…now what?

Thousands of students experience it every year – that sinking feeling when you realize your much-anticipated study abroad experience is over.

It can happen at different times: when you step off the plane in your home country… when you arrive in your hometown and see life carrying on as usual… when you re-enter your bedroom that has remained untouched since the day you left.

But the thought is almost always the same: “I can’t go back.”

And you can’t. You can’t go back because you’ve come too far. And this is a good thing!

Trust us. Resist the temptation to be discouraged because, after months of eye-opening experiences, you are thrust back into all-too-familiar territory. Instead, take comfort in the fact that, although your surroundings haven’t changed, you most certainly have.

For one, you’ve probably caught the “international bug.” In the coming years, you will likely gain enough personal satisfaction from further international endeavors (which, thanks to your time abroad, you now have the insight and courage to pursue) to put your current level of dissatisfaction to shame.

So, pick your chin up, and listen up, because we’re about to tell you exactly how you can capitalize upon your incredible study abroad experience.

NURSE YOUR WOUNDS: Take some time to fully process everything you’re feeling after returning home. Reverse Culture Shock is real! Learn how to rise above it.

LEVERAGE YOUR EXPERIENCE: Once you’ve overcome the initial shock of re-entry, think about…

  • Using study abroad to tell a compelling story on college applications and resumés. Learn How
  • Applying for college scholarships available to students who have studied abroad. View Scholarships

  • STAY CONNECTED: Get involved with AFS, or any other international organization in your community, to stay connected with like-minded individuals who will support and fuel your international aspirations. Get Involved

    GO ABROAD AGAIN: The world is a big place. So, take your new global savvy and thirst for cultural understanding and run with them…straight to another country! See How

    HOST AN EXCHANGE STUDENT: Make life about continued intercultural learning by welcoming an exchange student into your home. (After all, there’s got to be some good Karma there…) Learn More

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    An interview with Kim!

    Author, Amanda Ripley, with AFS Exchange Student, Kim.

    AFS Exchange Student, Kim with Author, Amanda Ripley.


    Kim is an AFS-USA exchange student who studied abroad in Finland. During her exchange year, she agreed to share aspects of her experience with Amanda Ripley, an author and global education researcher. Amanda used the insight she gained through Kim and other exchanges students in several countries to write her critically-acclaimed book, The Smartest Kids in the World (And How They Got That Way)”, which examines the world’s most effective educational systems and what we can learn from them.

      “It’s difficult to decide, but I would have to go with what it did for my self-confidence. I was painfully quiet when I went on my exchange year. It took effort, and amazing support, before I felt comfortable opening up around other people. It wasn’t that my exchange year turned me into a social butterfly, but it did give me the courage to make connections with really amazing people.”

      “I came from a single parent household in a small town, so I really had to rely on the generosity of others to fund my exchange year. I received scholarships through AFS, did bake sales, sold beef jerky door to door, and sold some things on eBay. Most importantly, I received support from my family. I’m very appreciative of how they all chipped in to help me.”

      “If money is standing in the way of your exchange, I imagine that will be your biggest and most stressful hurdle. First, don’t do what I did, which was to decide I was going on an exchange that year…that it was happening no matter what. It probably would have been easier had I worked at saving money for a year or two.

      Second, reach out to your community. You’ll probably get rejected (a lot…though I’m told that builds character), but you never know who might be willing to help you out. Do bake sales, sell things you rarely use, start a blog and create a place where people can donate. I think having a blog helped me fundraise because it gave people something to become connected to and invested in.

      And, most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You can do it, regardless of where you come from. Or at least you can say you tried.”

      “I’ve been back for two years now. I’m in my last year of high school, and looking for colleges and scholarships. I still have a blog where I try to write about where I travel and things I notice. I’m also about to start looking for internships at newspapers and magazines.”

      “I really believe being an exchange student drastically changed my future. I have so many more connections and opportunities than I would have had otherwise. I’m looking at universities in the UK and would like to study something like international relations. AFS gave me the chance to broaden my ideas about people and the world.”

      “I think choosing to leave your home country for a year shouldn’t be a lightly made decision. It was challenging in ways I couldn’t have imagined, but it was also immensely rewarding and satisfying. ”

      No two people will have the same exchange experience, and it can be dangerous to make comparisons. Studying abroad lends such a unique perspective and you learn so much about yourself, the world, and your place in it that I would highly encourage people to consider studying abroad.”

    *Want to learn more about Amanda Ripley, the author who followed Kim during her exchange experience? Click here to read our exclusive interview with her.

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    “Back-to-School” in Indonesia

    Indonesian school uniform

    The typical white and blue school uniform in Indonesia.

    It’s 6pm in Indonesia, but I know my friends back home are just waking up and getting ready for school. Everything remotely familiar seems a million miles away right now. From bathing, to transportation, to school, everything is different in Indonesia.

    But Indonesia is slowly becoming my home. Everyday, I find something new and beautiful to love, whether it’s riding to school on an “ojek” (motorcycle taxi), or hearing the call to prayer radiate over the island five times a day. Indonesia’s millions of quirks and fascinating cultural tidbits make life here so unique.

    But I should probably update you on what I’ve been doing for the last week. I started school at SMAN 5 Bekasi on Monday, and let me tell you, it’s fabulous!

    Apparently, I am the first exchange student to go to this school (at least from what I’ve gathered). So everyone is very surprised to see me – a blonde, white “bule” (foreigner) – wandering the halls.

    But my classmates are great. Everyone smiles and says ‘hi’ to me in the hallway. I guess I’m sort of the school celebrity!

    Indonesian class

    My amazing class. Can you spot the 'Bule'?


    A few words about Indonesian school uniforms:

    1. It is impossible to get on the back of a motorcycle when wearing one. I’m not sure how my Indonesian friends do it so swiftly and easily, when I’m just trying not to fall off.
    2. There are three types of school uniforms here:
        • Batik: Made from traditional Indonesian patterns. Every school has a unique batik and they’re beautiful.
        • Pramuka: I think this translates to “scout” in English, and it looks a lot like a girls scout uniform. It brings me back to my 5th Grade Brownie days.
        • The standard white top and blue skirt.

    Overall, I really like the uniform because I can blend in a tinyyyy bit more. As you may have guessed, blending in here is extremely difficult if you’re blonde, Caucasian, and tall (i.e. 5’4″) like I am. I’ll forever be a “bule”, but I’m embracing it.

    So, onto school. Everyday I ride to there on a motorcycle taxi (I have my own little moped back home, so I’m very used to this type of thing). The ride takes about 15 minutes, and it’s honestly the highlight of my day. We drive down a dirt road that winds through a little village, and the whole experience makes for an “only in Indonesia” moment each morning.

    School courtyard

    The courtyard at my Indonesian school.


    Classes are a lot of fun. There are 2 tracks that students follow: Science and Social. I’m in science and taking Physics, Chemistry, Trigonometry, Japanese, PE, Indonesian Language, English, and probably a few more that I can’t remember. It’s really funny trying to learn trig. and physics in Indonesian. Safe to say I don’t understand much yet, but hey, it’s all a part of the experience!

    English and Japanese are probably my 2 favorite classes. I love learning new languages, and learning Japanese from Indonesian is really fun. English is fun, too, because the teacher has me help teach. I’m pretty sure I gave my entire class a Wisconsin accent, so that’s fun.

    So that was this week in a nutshell. So far I can tell this is going to be a great year!

    This entry was adapted from the post, “school and other tidbits”, on the AFS-USA student blog, “a year in Indonesia”.

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    Dear future self…

    AFS-USA student, Natalie, with Speedwell Foundation founders, Jenny and Mike Messner, at the annual Speedwell Picnic.


    Natalie is a US high school student who will study abroad in France with AFS during the coming academic year. She is also a Speedwell scholarship recipient. Here is her letter to her post-study abroad self.

    “Dear Future Natalie,

    As I write this letter, there are 30 days until your AFS Program begins. It has also been over a year since you decided to study abroad.

    You knew in your heart that you wanted to go to France, and you were already telling people “when I go to France…” Yet, when you found out the only way to study abroad was to win a scholarship, you quit telling people about it. When you found out that 60 kids were applying, and only 30 would win, you started crying. Even though those are much better odds than college scholarships, you were afraid you dream could be ripped out from under you.

    Luckily, that didn’t happen, and I will soon be boarding a plane and flying to France! I get to meet my wonderful host family, who you surely know very well.

    And so, dearest future Natalie, now that you have come back from France, I’m sure you have changed in more ways that I can imagine. But here is how I hope you’ve grown:

    I hope you are more independent. I know, I know, I’m already very independent. But I still need approval before making decisions. I hope you have learned not to get caught up with simple decisions.

    I hope you are more spontaneous. I hope that at least once during the year you looked at a menu and picked something random – something you’ve never heard of. Maybe it was pleasant, maybe it was objectionable, but you lived.

    I hope that you are fluent in French. This is my biggest hope for you. I want you to be able to speak to anyone in French without fear. You probably still make mistakes, and your French may never be perfect. But I hope you have realized that this is okay.

    I hope you had an amazing time and took advantage of every opportunity while you were there. If you didn’t, I’m honestly disappointed in you. You were in France, silly!

    I hope you’ve discovered an occupation where you can use your French and other skills.

    I hope you know much more about the world than I do.

    I hope you’ve found a way to offer sufficient thanks to Jenny and Mike Messner, who selflessly funded of the very scholarship that sent you abroad.

    I hope you’ve become close to your host family and plan to keep in touch with them. So far, I adore them.

    And most of all, I hope you write me back. Now that your exchange year is over, how are you feeling? Do you want to move to France? Have you made any decisions about your career or college? Please don’t forget to fill me in!

    Until later,


    A Chinese Proverb

    *This entry was adapted from the post, “Dear Natalie,” on the AFS-USA student blog, “Frenchieville.”

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    Just arrived in the US, and feeling…

    The class of 2013-14 AFS study abroad participants is beginning to arrive!

    Across the US, AFS high school exchange students from around the world are flying into major airports and preparing to meet the families and communities who will host them for the next 10 months. This is an incredible, emotionally-charged time for all members of the AFS community, but especially the students.

    That said, we wanted see this process from the students’ perspective. So, we asked students arriving at New York’s JFK International Airport yesterday, “In one word, how are you feeling?”

    Here are their responses:

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    High School and SATs and College…Oh My

    An AFS-USA student at school during her exchange program.

    Ciao a tutti!

    I thought I would use this post to explain how I plan to deal with all things school-related while I’m abroad for a year in Italy.


    Junior year is typically the big college prep time in America, when you take the SAT’s and try to cram in as many AP courses as possible… and I’ll be sipping espresso 6,000 miles away in Italy. Man, my life is tough! ;P

    In all seriousness, I have a call in to my guidance counselor to discuss the SATs. It looks like I’ll be taking them next summer when I get back, and before I start senior year.

    I will also probably spend as much time as possible researching colleges online while I’m in Italy. I’ll then have to tour a ton of them right when I get back, and apply not long after that.

    But, oh well! I’m fairly confident that the benefits of being an exchange student far outweigh any risks. And besides, tons of high school students study abroad every year. They all figure out the college thing, so I’m sure I will, too.


    I also thought I could use this post to explain to people how the Italian school system works (FYI it doesn’t include big yellow busses or senioritis).

    Unlike American schools, Italian kids can choose between a technical school, a vocational school, or one of 6 types of high schools that have different specialties. For example, if a student wants to become a doctor or scientist, he or she would most likely choose to attend a Liceo Scientifico, which focuses on math and science.

    The various types of high schools in Italy.

    Another HUGE difference is (*sob*) they go to school on Saturdays. When it comes to the weekends, I am just like every other American teen, meaning I like my sleep and I want plenty of it!

    A breakdown of the typical Italian High School schedule.

    Fortunately, though, they only go to school for about 4 hours on Saturdays, and 6 hours on weekdays day, which is less than the average school day in the US.

    Thanks for reading,


    This entry is adapted from the post, “High school and SAT’s and college.. OH MY”, on the AFS-USA student blog,

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    Why YOU should become an exchange student

    Catania, Italy

    The city of Catania, Italy, where I will spend my exchange year.

    The intention for this post is to speak to the hearts and souls of all those potential AFSers. Hopefully you are seriously interested in becoming an exchange student, but if not, here are 5 reasons you should be!

    *Note: I haven’t even left the country yet, so I will probably update this post with more reasons during/after my actual exchange.


        It can be tough to meet new people during high school. I live in the cornfield-infested part of southern Pennsylvania, and there really isn’t much movement in and out with kids. Since kindergarten, I’ve had almost all of the same classmates.

        AFS, though, opens up tons of opportunities to meet people. For example, I found a Facebook group just for kids going to Italy with AFS for the 2013-2014 school year. Through this group, I have gotten to know people I never could have imagined contacting. I’m Skyping with Icelandics and Turks, and chatting with Canadians, Chinese, Italians, Russians, Chileans, Hungarians, and Japanese.

        The best part about these people is that most if not all of them share my interests. It’s like discovering versions of me across the planet.


        First, just getting yourself on a plane to your study abroad destination is a growing experience. Having the discipline to get the application done and prepare for such a big trip will make you a stronger person.

        Second, being an exchange student causes you to be away from your home, family, friends, and school for 10 months. You have no choice but to become independent. Past AFSers say that you will find yourself during the exchange program; you’ll find just where you fit in this big world. And that, friends, is what everyone needs – to find their place in life.


        Colleges love seeing that you’re fluent in a different language and that you studied abroad. You also get to have the experience of learning in a different setting, which will make adjusting to college life less of a shock.


        Living with a family across the world gives you a whole new set of relatives. You’ll spend 10 months with new grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and parents. If you’re an only child, you could be put in a house with 3 kids. If you are the oldest in your family, you may get an older brother or sister.

        Personally, I only have a younger brother, and I’m hoping for a sister of any age. An older brother would be great, too! There are many ways this could go, but regardless, you will create lifelong relationships with your family members.


        Even though we live in the world of television, smart phones, computers, and radios, we are still cut off from a lot of news around the world. We often hear about what HAS been going on in another region, but summaries of past incidents lack a lot of the crucial details and perspectives.

        Wherever you study abroad, big events will be occurring. You will experience these events them in a different way than your family and friends back home could ever imagine.

    There you have it – 5 reasons you should become an exchange student. Be it to Italy like me, Japan, France, Ghana, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia or any other AFS destination, you will experience the same things…in different ways! Motivate yourself to achieve more in life. The world is waiting. Actually, YOUR world is waiting!

    Peace, love, and pasta,


    “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

    This entry was adapted from the post, “Why YOU should become an exchange student” on the AFS student blog, “How to Succeed in Being an Exchange Student (Without Really Trying).”

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    One Last Time Before I Go

    One month from now, I will be home in the United States. It’s rather strange to think about, because I feel like I’ve gotten accustomed to life here in Belgium: I’m more comfortable speaking French every day; I feel at ease with my host family; and I know most of the major cities pretty well.

    Going back to the States is going to be a big culture shock, maybe even more so than when I arrived in Belgium. In addition, most of my friends are graduating this month, and I’m not graduating with them.

    However, there’s no other way I would have wanted to spend my senior year than studying abroad. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, as stereotypical as that sounds. If you’re considering being an exchange student, don’t think – just do it!

    These past few weeks, I’ve been out and about trying to do as many things as I can before I leave. Here are a few photos of what I’ve been doing:

    My friend Katerina from the Czech Republic taught me how to make a dandelion chain, a skill I never managed to acquire.

    My friend Callie from Texas came to my house for a night. We wandered around in the mustard fields and had a barbeque with my host family. It was a great time!

    My friend Mie from Denmark. We had a fund night at her house making food and watching the Eurovision finals…and Denmark won!

    My friend Dani from Canada. She can fit into tiny cupboards, as we found out after I tried and failed miserably.

    Cecilie from Norway playing us some morning tribal music. Cultural differences?

    My friend Claire from Oregon and I enjoying a comfortable couch in an awesome café.

    My friend Elizabete from Latvia. When she writes her first book, this will be the photo on the inner flap.

    Callie and our friend Free from Ghent with “apples.”

    My bro, Albert Einstein, and I.

    Crime scene: breakfast remains. Cause of death: hungry teenagers.

    Waffle trucks! Only in Belgium.

    Callie’s host-grandparents live hear Bruges, a city in Flanders. They have one of the cutest (and I hate using the word cute…) cottages I have ever seen.

    When can I move in?

    Callie and windmill, near Bruges.

    And now we’re in Bruges! Some call it the “Venice of Belgium.”

    *This post was adapted from the post, “best of belgium” on the student blog, “more than waffles.

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    You Know You’re Malaysianized When…

    Malaysian kids goofing around at school

    Goofing around at school in Malaysia

    After nearly 11 months in Malaysia, I have picked up tons of word, habits and ticks from the local culture. So much so that I and the other exchange students on my program consider ourselves “Malaysianized.”

    What exactly do I mean by this? Read on to find out.

    You know you’re Malaysianized when…

    1. You know the words for eat and tea in Tamil, Malay, and a few dialects of Chinese;
    2. You know at least 1 Malay and Tamil song;
    3. Arguing with the taxi drivers to use the metre isn’t so difficult;
    4. Crossing a busy street? No problem. Use the hand.;
    5. You know how to eat with your hands and use chopsticks;
    6. You’ve slowly forgotten how to eat with a knife…;
    7. You can’t go more than one week without eating roti canai (flatbread) or nasi lemak (fragrant coconut rice);
    8. There is no such thing as too much milo (chocolate and malt powder mixed with hot water);
    9. You know which way to fold your banana leaf after eating banana leaf rice;
    10. You hate it when someone thinks you’re a tourist;
    11. Malaysians know more about US pop culture than you;
    12. There are people in your class who speak better English than you;
    13. You start to spell things the British way;
    14. You know what the call to prayer sounds like on at least 3 different radio stations;
    15. The Starbucks baristas know you by name;
    16. You started saying going back to America instead of going home because Malaysia is home;
    17. The thought of leaving Malaysia makes you cry – really, really hard;
    18. You know that you’ll be back one day!!

    *This post was adapted from the post, “You Know You’re Becoming Malaysianized When…” on the student blog, “Musings from Malaysia.”

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