Student Spotlight: Meet Kim from the "Smartest Kids"

Amanda Ripley and Kim, an American AFS student who studied abroad in Finland

In what way did your study abroad experience in Finland impact your life the most?
It's difficult to decide how AFS most affected my life. 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 so much that my exchange year turned me into a social butterfly, but it did give me the courage to make connections with really amazing people.

How did you find the money to pay for your program? 
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.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to do a foreign exchange who can't afford it?
If money is standing in the way of your exchange, I imagine that will be your biggest hurdle and the most stressful. First, maybe don't do what I did. I decided I was going on an exchange *that year*, it was happening no matter what. It probably would have been easier had I worked at saving money for a year or two. Reaching out to your community is also a good place to start. You'll probably get rejected (a lot...but 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 they can donate. I think having a blog helped me fund raise because it gave people something to become connected to and invested in. 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.

What are you doing now that you have returned to the U.S. with a new perspective?
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.

How do you believe that your life’s path has shifted in direction?
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.

Would you recommend studying abroad to others? Why?
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.