I don’t
what people
are saying!

I don’t understand what people are saying!

Learning a new language is a process that takes time. Being surrounded by new words and sounds can be exhausting. While it can be challenging when you first start, the best and quickest way to pick up a new language is to fully immerse yourself in it.


  • Invite a new friend to see a movie or watch a TV show in your target language.
  • Find a language learning buddy to practice your conversation skills.
  • Watch YouTube videos of your favorite songs from your host country.
  • Make notes in your phone or in a small notebook of all the new words you learn.
  • Make a meal for your host family. Have your host parents help you learn the directions in your new language.

I’m homesick

Homesickness is common. Many exchange students find they miss home especially at the beginning of program and around special holidays. When you’re finding you’re missing home, try these tactics to help you work through it.


  • Find an activity to do with a host family member or local friend.
  • Reflect on the amount of time you’re spending online. Sometimes trying to connect with friends and family at home can make you miss it more.
  • Take care of yourself. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep.
I don’t
fit in
at school

I don’t fit in at school

Other students and teachers can be great resources for getting more comfortable in your host school. Don’t be afraid to be proactive and ask for help!


  • Ask a trusted teacher or guidance counselor for advice.
  • Sign up for a school sport or club.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Making friends takes time, and every school approaches academics differently.
  • Seek out other exchange students.
  • Volunteer to tutor peers in English.
I’m ready
for an

I’m ready for an adventure!

You’re here and ready to hit the ground running? Below are some ideas on how you can kickstart your journey!


  • Take a day trip to a cultural destination with your host family or a volunteer.
  • Explore your neighborhood.
  • Try a food that you’ve never eaten before.
  • Start a conversation with one new classmate every day.
  • Learn a new skill that’s typical of your host country or community.
I’ve discovered
so many
new things!

I’ve discovered so many new things!

One of the most exciting parts of being an AFSer is exploring your host country and learning new things. Here are some tips on how to stay curious!


  • Start a blog and write about your experiences.
  • Post pictures on Instagram to share with friends.
  • Share with your host family the things that you find most surprising or different from home.
  • Compare notes with your AFS friends in different countries.

I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Being in a brand new culture can bring a lot of changes in a short amount of time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your experience, be sure to take the time to take care of yourself. Consider the following ways that you can take advantage of the support resources you have within your host community.


  • Do yoga, drink a cup of tea, go for a run—whatever usually relaxes you.
  • Talk to a friend, host family member, or volunteer about your concerns.
  • Take one day at a time by setting short term goals for yourself. For example, instead of expecting to be fluent in a new language right away, try to learn 10 new words a day.
  • Write down in a journal 5 reasons why you wanted to go on exchange. Refer to this page to remind yourself of your goals when the going gets tough.
  • Remember the AFS saying: “It’s not right; it’s not wrong; it’s different.” Try to accept and welcome the differences.

I'm feeling sick.

Ask any AFS returnee--getting sick for the first time in your host community can be quite the experience thanks to cultural differences and language barriers. It’s important to be prepared for those moments you’re not feeling your best. After all, just like at home, you never know when a nasty cold or stomach bug will strike. Here are some tips that may help you get well sooner!


  • Let your host parents know that you’re not feeling well and ask for advice.
  • Consider going to see a doctor. Try to look up the words to describe how you’re feeling if you aren’t familiar with the vocabulary already.
  • Ask your host family about medical practices in your host country. You may be surprised to find how your host country approaches and addresses different health conditions. Chicken soup and crackers may not be your host parents’ idea of “get well soon” food!
  • Don’t call home right away! It’s your volunteers and host family who will get you the immediate help you need.
going home!

I’m never going home!

You feel right at home in your host community? You get along great with your host family? You’re killing it at school? You’re ready to stay forever! As you dive deeper into your host culture, here are some things to keep in mind.


  • Realize that you will go through different phases throughout your exchange. Enjoy the highs but acknowledge that you’ll also feel lows.
  • Try not to compare countries. Each place is unique and has a lot to offer. There’s no need to pick one over the other.
  • Celebrate the fact that you will always have two places to call home!

I’m lonely.

When you leave home, you leave your parents, friends, everyone you used to know and rely on - your support system. You need to develop a new one - your host family, your AFS friends, your new classmates, your AFS volunteers. This will take some time, but the more you reach out, the sooner you will again feel surrounded by people who care about you and whose company you enjoy. Did you know that establishing new and meaningful relationships is the number one indicator of having a successful exchange experience?


  • Don’t isolate yourself. While it’s tempting to stay in your room when you’re feeling down, you may give your host family the impression that you don’t want to spend time with them.
  • Unplug your computer. Don’t spend too much time talking to friends and family at home, because it can get in the way of building new relationships.
  • Get involved: Play a sport, sign up for a club, volunteer, attend AFS events. Put yourself out there!
  • Ask your host family or volunteer for advice on how to meet people in your host community.
I’m in

I’m in love!

Love, amor, l’amour, Liebe, cinta, amore...it’s a universal feeling! That being said, it’s important to remember that expressions of love are very cultural. Consider the following when navigating matters of the heart.


  • If you’re in love with your new host country...wonderful!
  • If you’re in love with someone at home...make sure that you’re not only putting all of your energy into that relationship, but also into the new ones you’re forming. It is not a good idea to have visitors from home while you are on exchange!
  • If you’re in love with someone new...be mindful of your host country's views on dating and PDA (public displays of affection).
I need

I need help.

Your AFS host family, volunteers, and staff are here to help you navigate your experience. While it is tempting to call home for help, learn how to troubleshoot with those who live in your host country’s culture. They are the experts who will guide you on this cultural journey.


  • Your first point of contact for help should be your host family, not your natural family at home.
  • You should always feel free to contact your local volunteer, your contact person, chapter volunteer or AFS staff in your host country.
  • Be sure to keep your emergency contact information, medical ID card and copy of your passport in a safe, accessible place.
  • Store important phone numbers in your phone.
  • Refer back to the cultural tips provided at your AFS orientations and events.

I feel uncomfortable.

Cultures differ greatly in nonverbal communication aspects such as how close you stand to someone, amount of physical contact, ways of touching, and displaying of emotions. What is not said or openly stated is often more important when making new friends or getting along with your host family. While it’s important to keep these differences in mind, it’s equally important to talk to a trusted adult if someone’s behavior makes you feel uncomfortable.


  • Having to adjust to a different way of interacting will naturally bring some level of discomfort. However, if the discomfort is due to physical contact you feel is inappropriate, talk to an adult as soon as possible.
  • Your host family and AFS contacts are available to help you sift through any confusion you may experience.
  • It is better to err on the side of caution, so be sure to bring up any uncomfortable topics sooner rather than later, so they can be addressed before they become bigger problems.
  • AFS has a 24/7 emergency system. Call your volunteer, any AFS contact, or the emergency line for your AFS country if you need help. AFS Duty Officers are available during non-work hours no matter what country you are in.
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