November 29, 2016 – Returnee and AFS-USA Intern, Maggie (pictured below) shares her advice…

Advice from Maggie: Being an active global citizen after exchange

For many AFS returnees, coming home to the U.S. after exchange means registering for college classes and starting a part-time job. The process can be exhausting and numbing, and it isn’t surprising that many returnees end up feeling like their exchange is packed away in a shoebox in their closets. Getting back into “normal life” is important and necessary after exchange, but that doesn’t mean returnees shouldn’t incorporate their exchange experiences into their everyday life.

One great way to utilize your exchange year is to continue being active internationally. Success in today’s interconnected world means more than just learning a foreign language, and it’s important for high school and college students to learn to be active global citizens and adapt international mindsets. This may seem difficult to accomplish and unrealistic considering the typical college student’s schedule. However, it is a completely possible, and also realistic, option for student returnees!

While this advice is based off of my experience attending college directly after exchange, it also can be applied to those of you who go back to high school after exchange!

Joining international groups on campus

One of the easiest ways to keep an international worldview is to join the language or international clubs that your high school or college offers. Not only free, but they’re usually widely available, depending on the size of the student body. Learn a new language with Spanish Club or practice your international delegation skills with Model UN! Both options allow returnees to continue practicing open-mindedness.

“My freshman year of college, I joined the French club at my school and then sophomore year became president, and then I studied abroad. I’ve remained internationally minded and globally active by remaining curious and open minded. I try to challenge notions people take for granted and seek out perspectives different than my own. I have studied abroad twice since my AFS experience and have visited my host country, Switzerland, twice. I stay in touch with my international friends, including those from exchange (one road tripped across the country with me this summer, and I’m meeting another in NYC in a couple of weeks for her first ever trip to the U.S.). I believe travel is more an attitude than it is a destination, and so largely I remain active internationally by just being curious and open to opportunity.”

– Emily Tyler, Switzerland 2011

Pursuing extra language opportunities

Improving on the language you learned abroad or learning new languages from others is a great way to continue being an active international citizen. Considering the vast availability of free apps and language learning websites, it’s also relatively the easiest task we can complete as returnees! It does take a little bit of time compared to other tasks, but it’s worth it.

“After [my exchange in] Sweden, I spent 4 and a half months in South America and became fluent in Spanish. This summer, I worked with a lot of people from Turkey and learned a little bit of Turkish. Currently, I’m in university and as of next year, I will double major in English and International Studies. This will require me to study abroad for at least ten weeks. I am taking French and practicing my Turkish with a student from Turkey. I’m also involved in an organization called Pink House that reaches out to international students and I tutor in English. By interacting with international students, I still get to learn about other cultures and languages.”

– Majalisa Nelson, Sweden 2014

Go to a university abroad

If you’re interested in working internationally after college or want to study something closely related to international affairs, you might be able to consider a university abroad. While this isn’t as common and requires more prep work than going to college in the U.S., it looks great on resumés, prepares you for working globally, and can sometimes even be cheaper than going to an American school (yes, you read that right).

“Going on exchange to a European country was definitely the main reason why I came [to university in Germany]. It was because of my exchange that I gained a more European perspective in education and lifestyle. Initially, I wanted to go to Sweden [for college], but for financial reasons and the craving to discover other places in Europe, I settled with Berlin. Even though Bard College Berlin is technically an American university and it’s based on liberal arts, the way it’s run and the student population and staff are still very internationally based, meaning that it doesn’t follow typical American rules and in education we do not limit ourselves to a purely American perspective.”

– Mateo Rodriguez, Sweden 2014