An Exchange Student at 17
It almost feels like as if it was just yesterday when I was on my own on a plane not really knowing what to expect but excited for what the future had for me. Now I'm back home with a ton of memories, e-mails to answer, and a lot of stories to share. I don't even know where to start now that I'm writing about my experience of being an exchange student in Appleton, Wisconsin for a whole school year.
Well, I've wanted to be an exchange student my whole high school life. I read about summer programs in a brochure from IFS, and I thought then that living somewhere else for a while and having friends from another country would be the coolest thing in the world. I would be on my own, have my own Indiana Jones adventure, and fulfill my dream of having something different. Pretty soon, at the end of my senior year, Mama and I were applying to IFS and we decided that a whole year would give me so much more immersion and would make the experience so much better. I had meetings in the weekends about rules, how to survive, homesickness, etc. Then I got an email. I had a host family! Next thing I knew, I had a flight booked.
I was so excited and happy and I was telling all my friends about it. I was researching about Wisconsin in books and in the Internet. Compared to what I saw on TV and what I experienced when I traveled to places like Los Angeles, California with my family, Wisconsin was different. It was more of farmland and countryside. I lived in Appleton and its population was around 70,000 and I thought it was a small town compared to our Manila. There was no traffic, they only had one major mall, and everything was in close proximity. I didn't even know what to think of the cold weather. I just brought cotton long-sleeved shirts with me. But when winter came, I needed to get a coat. During the winter, the sun would set at 4pm and it wouldn't go up until around 9. There were days when the temperature would go below freezing and I was wearing around 6 layers of clothing just to keep myself warm. I never even blow-dried my hair before. I had to do it every morning after I took a shower because if I didn't, my hair would FREEZE. The thing I liked best about the cold and the snow was being able to ski. People were so excited for me and telling me all their snow stories (since we don't have it in the Philippines). I have never skied in my life either, so I was excited and proud to learn.
I was placed with the greatest host family in the whole world. They treated me like their own and they are like real family in another part of the world. I had a host mom, a host dad, a brother and sister. Ben would always be sweet and give me hugs and kisses. I loved every minute of it because I never had a younger brother before. It was fun seeing Katie grow up since she started to be a teenager and we would always tell stories in the bathroom we shared. Through e-mails we established that I was going to call them Mom and Dad since I was never used to calling older people by their first names. I felt super loved. They made sure there was tuna in the pantry (since it was my favorite), hugged me when I needed to be hugged, let me stay out late at night with my friends, and even let me have parties in the basement.
I went to an American co-ed public high school and that was a big adjustment coming from an all-girl private Catholic school. The school was new, everyone was different and it was so diverse. I have never met so many kinds of people in just one place. I was scared during the first day of school. I didn't know anyone, I got lost since the school was huge, and people didn't think I knew how to speak in English every time my teachers would say, And here's Elaine she's a foreign exchange student. But pretty soon I started to get comfortable. It was funny how people always got surprised by how good I was at speaking in English. They're like, Wow, you even speak better English than me. I loved answering people's questions like, So, what do you do in the winter? or Where is the Philippines? Isn't that near South America somewhere? or What's it like to have a coconut tree outside your house do you have coconuts everyday? I had the chance to take fun classes like Spanish, photography, and art so I met people with similar interests as me and got to go to field trips. My favorite was going to Chicago to see my favorite painting Starry Night by Van Gogh. I was an honorary member of the International Club and there was even one time I was giving a talk about the Philippines for the school's Global Awareness Week and someone asked me to say something in Filipino. So I said, Magandang Umaga, ang pangalan ko ay Elaine. They thought it was so cool and people started clapping and giving me a standing ovation. Just for saying my name in Tagalog!!!
I made a lot of friends and met so many people. I joined a church youth group, volunteered for a group for teens with cognitive disabilities, an indoor soccer team during winter and the girls track team during spring. Friends took me out to movies, hockey games, restaurants, road trips, rock shows and concerts. Someone even took me to see the Incubus concert! I got to do my first American prank, which was writing on boys cars with lipstick. Everyone was warm, open, and never hesitant in giving hugs. I would say that as much as I missed my family and friends at home, I never really got homesick because I had friends who made sure I was okay. They were all always there for me and helping me with all the adjustments I had to make, like school, getting rides, hanging out, shopping, going to prom, learning slang terms, everything. I will forever remember all the fun times I had with them.
One of the things I had to get used to and eventually enjoyed was how people picked up on my difference. Girls would always tell me how lucky I was to have a year-round tan and ask if I went to tanning salons! I haven't even heard of tanning salons since I got there! Some boys would ask me how I got my hair to be so black. I was shy and surprised by how forward some guys were. Unlike here, guys do not court girls. It's more casual. Eventually, though I got used to it. I realized that guys all over the world are the same. I became excited to be actually hanging out with all these cute boys, getting calls, and going out. Hugging with someone from the opposite sex wasn't even a big deal, and it was something I enjoyed. Going out opened my eyes to more similarities and differences in the American culture. It was one of the times I was so proud of being Filipina. I was different, exotic, and new.
Every month, I met with other exchange students in our area. I made friends with people from Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, England, Hungary, etc. It was fun when we were together because we saw how language, skin color or height didn't matter. We were all the same. We even got to bond right away because we were all going through the same thing as exchange students so we talked about the differences at home, school, and out countries. I learned so many things about other cultures, and even got to share my own. I remember cooking the adobo for a Christmas party. I was stressed about it but everyone loved it!
Being away for 10 months and living alone in a completely different world has taught me a lot of things. I have grown and my perspective has changed in ways I never would have imagined. I now can say that I am independent, appreciate my family and friends here more, open to new ideas, aggressive, and more confident about myself. Having my own adventure has proven to me that anything is possible and that I can do anything. It was the best time of my life and I will always remember how choosing to go out and discover what the world has in store for me was life-changing and will be something I will always cherish.
Study Abroad Guide
Home > Students > How to Write an Outstanding Study Abroad Application Essay
For some students who wish to study abroad, the statement of purpose can be one of the most daunting components of the program application. The good news: it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first! After all, you’ve come this far in the study abroad research process, so chances are you’ve already given thought to what the essay requires you to write about. As long as you don’t rush and take the time to create a solid outline, your study abroad application statement of purpose will truly shine.
Common statement of purpose requirements
Although each program application may have program-specific essay requirements to address, most will ask students to address the following two components:
- Goals for studying abroad (i.e. academic, career, and personal) – Most likely, you will have to briefly describe your goals, outlining specific ways in which studying abroad will help you achieve these goals.
- Reason you chose this program/location – This aspect of the statement of purpose is more specific to why, out of all the programs and locations on Earth to study, you’re applying to this one.
Creating an outline
Before rushing into writing out your statement of purpose, make sure you’ve carefully read the instructions and prompts for the essay. The worst way to sabotage an otherwise excellent essay is to miss a key requirement outlined in the instructions. To help keep essay requirements fresh in your mind, consider copying and pasting the requirements at the top of essay document so that they are there for quick reference.
After you fully understand what points you are required to touch on in your statement of purpose, drafting an outline will help keep your essay organized, clear, and succinct. Consider following the steps below to help make this process easy and straight-forward.
Open up a blank Word document, and get down the general essay components:
Now that you have the foundation laid out, you can complete your outline by creating a couple compelling sentences for each paragraph. Having these sentences drafted will help you quickly move forward after your outline is complete. Let’s take a look at each paragraph, and sample sentences for each.
Introduction – Create a strong thesis sentence that sums up your overall purpose for studying abroad.
- Example: Studying abroad at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid will be a monumental step in realizing my personal, academic, and career goals to my highest potential.
This thesis sentence portrays to the reader that you have identified personal, academic, and career goals in relation to studying abroad in a specific program, and will describe them below.
Paragraphs 1-3 – Draft a sentence that sums up your response to the each point, then a second sentence that provides a specific outcome that this study abroad program will provide.
Paragraph 1 (e.g. personal reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):
- Example: My grandfather migrated to the United States from Madrid, and since an early age I’ve wanted to see and experience the city and culture he grew up in. By the end of my study abroad program, I plan to have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for my family heritage by becoming more fluent in Spanish and familiar with Spanish customs and cultural practices.
Paragraph 2 (e.g. academic reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):
- Example: As a history major, I plan to utilize my time in Spain to contribute to my overall academic success and focus within the history program at my home university. Throughout my time studying abroad, I will visit historical sites around Spain relevant to my intended topic for my graduate thesis topic: Moorish architectural and cultural influences in modern Spanish society.
Paragraph 3 (e.g. career reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):
- Example: I plan to one day teach Spanish history and culture at the college level, and this program will give me the first-hand experience I believe necessary to be qualified and successful in this position. By being completely immersed in the Spanish culture, and by having access to a large number of relevant historical sites and resources, I will enter this study abroad experience with my career development in mind.
For the conclusion, come up with a strong sentence to sum-up (again) why this program and location is the best choice.
- Example: After extensive research of all possible programs, I am convinced that studying history and Spanish culture at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is an ideal match for my personal, academic, and career goals outlined above.
Now that you have a strong outline, filling in the rest should come easily and naturally. As would be normally expected in college-level essays, it’s important to make sure that each sentence you write relates directly to the main sentences in its respective paragraph you came up with in the outline.
After you’ve written your completed first draft of your study abroad application statement of purpose, save the document and take a break for a week. After you’ve had some time to clear your mind, you’ll likely come back to edit your essay with a fresh perspective and as a result more easily catch mistakes you may not have otherwise caught!
Finally, before you send it off, double (and triple) check to make sure that you haven’t overlooked any requirements for the statement of purpose. Also, consider having at least one other person look at your essay – your campus’s writing center is a great resource you might consider utilizing!
After you’ve sent in your essay, congratulate yourself! You are well on your way to one of the most exciting journeys of your life, and you certainly deserve to be proud of this accomplishment.