The steps in adapting a student to intercultural exchange. These steps may vary from one student to another. From “The Exchange Student Survival Kit” (B. Hansel, Intercultural Press 2007).

Following observations made in recent years, there has been consistency in the adaptation steps of each student participating in an AFS program. The AFS student’s adaptation cycle may vary from one individual to another, but it is generally as follows:

First step :
When you register, you are already apprehensive about both the selection process and the possibility of being refused. This apprehension is followed by a feeling of excitement as you learn that you are accepted by a host country. At this stage, you anticipate the existence of cultural differences, but you can’t really imagine the adjustment difficulties you will have to face.

Second step :
Shortly after your arrival in the host country, you face culture shock: many if not almost all social structures (school, family, community life, etc.) are different from the one you know. For example, you wonder how to communicate with people, or what attitude to take with people of the other sex in a society that does not have the same values. As you master the language and get used to the customs, you become more and more autonomous and your feeling of isolation disappears and gives way to the feeling of belonging: this is what we can do during the superficial adaptation stage.

Third step :
Three or four months later, you are integrated into the school environment and speak the language fluently. This is when you are able to take a closer look at the society in which you live. The profound differences between you and others are becoming more apparent. This stage is characterized by feelings of boredom, frustration and isolation. Sometimes you complain about not having friends. School, extracurricular or daily activities seem to you to be of no interest.

Step four :
A feeling of sadness and fear comes as you see the end of your year approaching (deep adaptation and fear of return). You’re afraid of going home. At that moment you realize how much you have changed and how attached you are to the people around you; you feel guilty for not wanting to go home.

As soon as you return to your natural family, or soon after, you experience another shock: the shock of seeing that you are a completely different person than the one who left a year earlier. You may feel a little lonely because you are still imbued with your AFS experience and people around you do not show as much interest. At this last stage, you realize that your level of understanding of the two cultures you face has evolved and you then enter the process of rehabilitating your original culture.

Remember that your natural parents will also experience their own adaptation cycle. We can distinguish different stages:

  • The pride that you were selected
  • The apprehension of your departure
  • Fear of a change in their relationship with you
  • The excitement as you approach your return
  • The shock (or disappointment) of seeing the change and maturity you have acquired
  • Pride in seeing that this personal experience has been positive and enriching for you.