The Benefits of the Foreign Exchange Program


Luke Mandel '20, Online Editor

Over the past year, I participated in the German exchange program. In September 2017, my German partner, Patrick, came to the United States for three weeks. He spent the first week touring Washington, D. C. and New York City with his German classmates, and then spent the other two weeks living at my house and going to school with me. In June 2018, I went to Germany for two weeks, stayed at Patrick’s house, and went to school with him. My German exchange partner grew to be a close friend of mine, and we invited him back to the United States for a vacation in Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for two weeks in August and had a great time.

In addition to the good friendship, I found other value in the exchange. I gained a realistic understanding of German culture; I was able to speak more German than I ever had in German class; and, I enjoyed touring a country with a rich history. I noticed both large and subtle differences between institutional systems in Germany and America. I found instances where America could do well to follow the example of Germany, such as in infrastructure, roads, and railroads. I found other instances where Germany might benefit by emulating America’s example, such as having speed limits on major highways. As I learned more about German institutions, I found that there are different perspectives on life in our respective countries, such as in the direction schools give a student for life, or what people in each country consider to be respectable jobs.

I write this not to illustrate that a certain way of doing things, or a single perspective is superior, but rather that by exploring a culture different from our own, we can learn how to make

improvements in our own society and lifestyles. I have talked to people in the United States who think America has it all—a multitude of vacation destinations, every ethnicity, a sample of every culture. Those who think this are not wrong, but there is much to be said for exploring the new and foreign. We must not necessarily agree with a foreign perspective or even adopt it, but knowing there is another way has its benefits and broadens the mind. It may change your definition of success, or you may take a liking to a foreign cuisine. You may find your political views change. If you discover that you have a fondness for the country you visit, you may be interested in studying abroad in college, or even taking a gap year to go live in a foreign country, which may be helpful in certain fields of employment.

I cannot predict what any one person will take away from immersing themselves in a foreign culture, but I guarantee you will learn something. I strongly recommend that if you are in a foreign language class that offers an exchange program that you take advantage of it. If your language class does not offer an exchange, then advocate for one. Who knows, you may even make a long-distance friendship in the process.

What I found to be most striking was that my German partner spent his life’s savings on a plane ticket to spend two weeks with me in the United States. We plan to stay in contact and we both will remember valuable lessons from our respective trips.

We live in a globalized world now, and the only imposed isolation we find ourselves in is that of our own making. Take advantage of exchange programs and the government sponsorship some of these programs receive. They have every potential to help you.