How to prepare for exchange in an ESL country

March 20, 2017
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Going on exchange is one of the most exciting thing you can do while at uni. It gives you the opportunity to make new friends, eat new foods and see amazing monuments in your host country. But it can be scary, especially if it is your first time overseas or if you’re going on exchange to a country that doesn’t speak English as their first language. Here are five ways to help you prepare for an exchange experience in an ESL country.

Start learning the language

This is the most basic way to start preparing. There are plenty of apps such as uTalk and Duolingo that can help you learn your host country’s language. Ten minutes a day can help you learn the basics and you can easily pick up the language on your way to work or classes.

The Australian government can help you with a cool incentive too. OS-HELP is a loan that helps with exchange expenses. As well as lending you a decent amount to go on exchange (as of 2016, the government will pay you $6,470 if you study outside of Asia, $7,764 if you are studying in Asia), an additional $1,035 will be paid if you are studying an Asian language.

Go to the language club

While I was on exchange in Japan, there was a club dedicated to helping international and exchange students learn the language. Most unis will have something like this where you can mingle with the native students. They ask you basic questions and help you with grammar and vocab, and vice versa you can teach the native students English as well.

Choose where you stay

Most unis will have international dorms where you can mingle with those from your host country, and some even have an option to stay with a host family. Staying with a host family can let you see the culture first hand and make you better prepared with the host language as you’ll be using it every day.

Immerse in the culture

One of my main aims for exchange was to immerse in the culture. It does help you to forget a bad case of homesickness. While I was embracing my host country’s culture, I made new friends and it helped me with my language skills. Talking to the local convenience store workers in my broken Japanese actually helped me practice because they helped me to get it right. My uni friends took me to local shrines and temples and taught me vocab on the way.

Take classes spoken in your host language

Most unis will require exchange students to take language classes to better prepare them. On top of my one and a half hour class a week, I took another class totally spoken in Japanese. Ask the student services at your host university or a professor if you can sit in on their classes to pick up the language. Although classes will be spoken in academic language, it will be a good way to sound fancy once you get home and lead you one step closer to becoming a native speaker in no time.

Sinead Simpkins

Sinead studies Master of Arts at University of New England. When she is not studying she is still waiting for her Hogwarts letter.