Exchange programs. The effects on a young person concerning cognitive and emotional skills

Pre-University Paper, 2016

39 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents


1. Introduction and lead-in to the procedure of an exchange programme based on the programmes of “into Schüleraustausch”
1.1. Introduction
1.2. The time before the exchange - being a “HOPEE”
1.3. Different types of exchange programmes
1.4. The time of the exchange - being an “EXCH NGE STUDENT”
1.5. The time after the exchange - being a “RETURNEE”

2. Effects of an exchange according to previous studies
2.1. General information on country of chosen exchange programmes as well as age and gender of exchange students
2.2. School after an exchange
2.3. Effects on the future career
2.4. Effects on personal skills
2.5. Intercultural learning as an aspect of exchange programmes
2.6. Language skills

3. Effects of an exchange according to my own research
3.1. General information on chosen programmes
3.2. Effects on the future life
3.3. Influence on personality & character
3.4. Language skills
3.5. Significant differences between certain groups of exchange students

4. Conclusion




More and more young people decide to spend a few months of their school time in a foreign country. This paper deals with the effects of an exchange programme and reveals possible consequences on a cognitive basis as well as ones on a personal basis.

I have decided to write about that topic because during my upper classes I took part in an exchange programme and wanted to find out whether my experience denotes a ‘usual’ stay and its consequences.

Although there are great effects on young people’s knowledge, an exchange influences them personally a lot more than cognitive. Gaining self-confidence, maturity and openness towards new situations and other cultures are only a little selection of what former exchange students reported to have experienced.

The findings are based on a survey with a total of 132 respondents, 98 of them be- ing former exchange students and 34 being in the planning phase of their adven- ture. The results coincided with the considered previous studies on the same issue by and large, although some significant differences like the number of students spending their time in the USA compared to the ones who spend their exchange elsewhere occurred.

1. Introduction and lead-in to the procedure of an exchange programme based on the programmes of “into Schüleraustausch”

1.1. Introduction

„Der institutionelle internationale ustausch, der Jugendliche zum Reisen bringt, zum Aufenthalt in einem anderen Land und zu dessen Entdeckung, zum Erleben von Begegnungssituationen mit dessen Einwohnern, erscheint als eine natürliche und angemessene Antwort für die Zielsetzung einer Annäherung der Kulturen, der Kenntnis des Anderen und der Kommunikation mit ihm.“1 (Colin, 2006, p. 281)

What Lucette Colin wrote in 2006 exhibits only one facet of student’s exchange. Apart from being a means of getting different cultures together, it is also a way to learn a second language up to native speaker level and it also illustrates a great possibility for young people to unfold themselves, to expand their horizon and to dispute with themselves.

I took part in an exchange programme myself in 2014 and therefore wanted to investigate the effects of such a stay in general. Two of my central questions were “Can it be said generally that an exchange student, seen personally and characterwise, ages twice as fast during their time abroad?” and “Does my own experience reflect a ‘usual’ exchange and its consequences?”.

The following pages will deal with the issue of how taking part in an exchange pro- gramme affects a young person. Of course, beside cognitive effects there are a lot of changes in personality that a long time abroad at such a young age will cause. This paper will reveal what kind of changes most exchange students face with themselves and find out whether a kind of paragon of how an exchange student diversifies exists or not.

In order to receive reliable answers, the questionnaire which provides the basis for this disquisition consulted 98 returnees2 and 34 hopees3 of “into Schüleraustausch”. It contained detailed questions concerning expectations on how the exchange will change the young people and their delivery.

1.2. The time before the exchange - being a “HOPEE”

In order to become an exchange student with “into Schüleraustausch” one has to apply at least three months before the actual beginning of the programme (into GmbH, 2014, p. 38). The first step is the pre-application, which can be filled in online or sent in manually. After that, the hopee has to pass through an interview with one of “into Schüleraustausch’s” employees. The organisation then decides whether or not a person is suitable for an exchange. After being chosen the student gets a link to the so called “application forms”, twelve pages where detailed infor- mation about the student and their life is required. These forms must be sent to “into” within four weeks. part from that the hopee and their parents have to sign a comprehensive contract with “into Schüleraustausch”. The organisation signs that contract back after having received all of the required forms (into GmbH, 2014, p. 4).

Once everything is filled in and sent, the waiting time starts. The date of receiving the placement is independent from the time of application. Therefore “into” is able to find the most appropriate host family for everyone (into GmbH, 2014, p. 5). Dur- ing or after the waiting time (depends on the time of getting a placement) “into” offers an obligatory pre-departure-seminar (PDS) with all hopees and several returnees. On the same weekend they also offer an information evening for all parents, which is not compulsory, but advisable (into GmbH, 2014, p. 5).

1.3. Different types of exchange programmes

The term “exchange programme” denotes a certain time which is spent abroad by a student, it can roughly be separated into short- and long-time exchange. This paper is only going to deal with long-time exchange, which means a single student spends at least one month in a foreign country, usually when they are between fourteen and eighteen years old (Thomas, 1988, p. 290). The actual duration of that time can vary, the range of offered programmes includes one-month-stays as well as twentymonths-stays. ccording to “into Schüleraustausch”4 the most common programmes are half a school year or one school year abroad.

In Austria, any student who has stayed in a foreign country between five and twelve months and successfully completed the school year there is automatically allowed to graduate into the next class (SchUG, 01.07.2015, § 25 (9)). However, “into Schüleraustausch” guarantees the recognition of any of their programmes, also the shorter ones, and therefore offers their students security (into GmbH, 2014, p. 4).

Apart from their duration, exchange programmes can be distinguished by the type of payment. For the nowadays more popular type the exchange student has to pay a certain amount of money to the exchange organisation which will cover any costs like school fees or the money for the host family. The other possibility is taking someone from the host country as an exchange student after or before the own exchange and therefore pay less. This paper is only going to deal with the more favoured type of exchange programmes.

As mentioned above, taking part in an exchange programme costs money. The price range reaches from about 5.000€ up to a lot more than 20.000€ depending on the country and duration of the stay (into GmbH, 2014, pp. 25, 35). Some organ- isations offer scholarships for very few students. “into Schüleraustausch” only of- fers these for their “US CL SSIC” programme and the decision whether or not the financial situation of a student really requires support is in the hands of their tax accountant. There are also several other institutions to get financial backup, for ex- ample the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and Culture or the so called “Michael von Zoller”-foundation (Arreola, 2016;, 2016-02-03).

1.4. The time of the exchange - being an “EXCH NGE STUDENT”

After their arrival most5 exchange students who leave their home country in sum- mer take part in an orientation camp which lasts between four and eight days. It takes place in a central city of the host country and the caretakers show the stu- dents around. In Spain “into” also offers language-workshops to ease the exchange students’ access into living with Spanish-speaking people. After that everyone gets to their host family, where the real exchange starts (into GmbH, 2014, p. 8f).

Every area with exchange students has a so called “Local Rep.”6 who helps out in case any problems occur and makes sure the students as well as the host families are alright and satisfied with each other. part from that “into” offers a 24/7- emergency-hotline for very urgent problems (into GmbH, 2014, p. 7). In order to solve any problem properly, the organisation has an emergency chain which starts with talking to the host family, goes on with contacting the Local Rep., getting in touch with the organisations7 and ends with calling the parents at home (into Schüleraustausch GmbH, 2013, p. 9).

If serious issues between host family and exchange student emerge, “into” offers the possibility of changing host family, together with their partner organisation they will then try to find a more appropriate host family very soon (into GmbH, 2014, p. 7). However, they always want their exchange students to at least try to get on with their new surroundings for a few weeks before they can change host family.

1.5. The time after the exchange - being a “RETURNEE”

It is entirely up to the exchange student, who is now a “returnee”, to decide whether they want to keep in touch with “into” or just see their exchange as checked and not have any more contact with the organisation. “into Schüleraustausch” offers a returnee-seminar for all returnees every year. Moreover, they have a so called “returnee-point-system”. Former exchange stu- dents can do different activities like helping at a pre-departure-seminar or inform- ing other people about “into” in order to gain returnee-points. After having earned enough points (a flight inside Europe for example “costs” around 1.000 returnee- points) “into” agrees to pay for a flight back to the host country. That way they en- able a lot of returnees to meet their host families again and keep in touch with them (into GmbH, 2014, p. 5).

Returnees also get the possibility to give feedback on their exchange to “into”, so the organisation can always improve their programmes. Very frequently, they are told that certain Local Reps do not supervise the students well enough. The organi- sation of course tries to improve in that point, but they also mentioned that the job of a local coordinator is to find a proper host family for any student and not to organise a lot of trips and excursions. However, most returnees give positive feedback to “into”, for instance they tell them that they had the best time of their life or feel a lot more independent after their stay abroad. What is more, many exchange students who have just come home from their journey say to be much more aware of their own culture (Arreola, 2016).

Any former exchange student is a returnee for the rest of their life. So to speak, all effects that are due to taking part in such an exchange programme and that will show up at some point in one’s life will be apparent with a returnee. Therefore, the following chapter deals with the effects of an exchange according to previous stud- ies.

2. Effects of an exchange according to previous studies

Student’s exchange is an issue which has only predominantly been researched in fi- nal papers as yet (Thomas, 1988, p. 289; Hürter, 2008, p. 15). Therefore hardly any long-term studies are in existence, which is why some aspects are always ignored and the results often do not coincide (Hürter, 2008, p. 22). Moreover, the majority of studies into that topic deals with exchange during the time at university, but as it has been found out that the age of an exchange student matters only subordinate- ly, such papers and studies are also going to be taken into consideration (Richter- Trummer, 2002, p. 114f).

2.1. General information on country of chosen exchange programmes as well as age and gender of exchange students

In a research with over 1000 former exchange students who had gone abroad with YFU8 between 1998 and 2005 about 65% of the exchange students were female. More than three quarters of those respondents chose the United States of America as their exchange destination. A quite big difference between female and male stu- dents could be noticed in that case: With the girls more than one quarter decided to go to another country than the USA, whereas only 14% of the boys did so (Hürter, 2008, p. 82).

The margin of exchange student’s age was from 15 to 18 years in that study. gain, there was a significant distinction concerning gender. The girls were generally younger than the boys when they started their exchange programme. What is more, while more than 90% of the USA-students went abroad after their tenth year of school, nearly 20% of the others started it either after their ninth or eleventh year (Hürter, 2008, p. 83).9

2.2. School after an exchange

Only less than a quarter of the YFU-students repeated the missed school year, therefore a difference between repeaters and non-repeaters occurred. While nearly 24% of the non-repeaters faced troubles at school back home, only 17% of the repeaters did so. Apart from that, female returnees had a lot more problems at school after their exchange than their male colleagues and exchange students who had gone to another country than the USA were more likely to have a hard time catching up than the ones who had stayed somewhere in the United States of America (Hürter, 2008, p. 91).

In general, only about one quarter of the questioned returnees had worse marks after taking part in an exchange programme, about one fifth levelled off and more than half of the students were even able to achieve better marks than they had before their time in a foreign country (Hürter, 2008, p. 106).

When looking at the grades in specific subjects before and after the exchange Hürter (2008, pp. 95, 99) found out that about half of the exchange students stayed the same in Maths and German, while one quarter was able to improve their marks and one quarter’s marks deteriorated after their time abroad. Unsurprisingly, this was very different with the first foreign language10, there only about 5% recorded a worse mark after their exchange (this might be due to the fact that not all students stayed in a country with their first language as mother tongue and furthermore did not have the opportunity to attend lessons for that language), 35% remained constant and nearly 60% could enhance their performance (Hürter, 2008, p. 103).

The general improvement in school subjects in contempt of the missed subject matter was amongst other things reasoned with better language knowledge, higher self-confidence and a more conscious approach to school. A high number of re- turnees agreed that they learnt to realise their own aims and to assess themselves more easily because of the exchange. Additionally, more than two thirds said they were better able to organise themselves and nearly half of the questionees registered higher motivation for attending school after coming back home (Hürter, 2008, p. 110f).

Similar results were found with exchange during university-time, but although the integration of taken exams in the foreign country can constitute a problem in some cases and missed courses etc. might extend the duration of study an exchange cannot be called a wasted year of study. A lot of exchange students gained experience in other parts of life that turned out to be helpful in their studies some time later (Richter-Trummer, 2002, p. 117).

2.3. Effects on the future career

As per Hürter’s study on a scale from zero (“The exchange had no impact on my ca- reer choice.”) to five (“The exchange had a great impact on my career choice.”) the midpoint was at 3.22, so obviously the impact is quite high. Only 2% of the included former exchange students claimed that their time abroad had no influence on their career possibilities at all, which shows quite clearly that in general it can be said that taking part in an exchange programme will most certainly take an impact on one’s future career. Even though, hardly any students were motivated to go on ex- change by the prospect of having better chances at the employment market (Hürter, 2008, p. 111ff).


1 The institutional international exchange that gets adolescents to travelling, to a stay in a foreign country and to its discovery, to the experience of encounter situations with its inhabitants seems to be a natural and appropriate answer for the ambition of an approach of cultures, the acquaintance of the other one and the communication with them.

2 Former exchange students

3 Students who have already planned, but not yet started their exchange programme

4 I took part in one of “into Schüleraustausch’s” exchange programmes. The organisation contracted into supporting me with my “VWA”.

5 Orientation camps are only offered for certain countries, so not all students have the possibility to take part in such a camp.

6 Short form of “Local Representative”

7 They suggest contacting their partner organisation in the host country first and the Austrian one afterwards.

8 Short form for the exchange-organisation “Youth For Understanding” (, 2016-01-10)

9 In contrast to Austrian students, in Germany all students who are doing their A-levels have 13 years of school, therefore the time span for going abroad is longer than with the 12-year-system in Austria.

10 In 90% of the cases this was English, the other 10% had Latin, French, Spanish or Russian as their first foreign language.

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Exchange programs. The effects on a young person concerning cognitive and emotional skills
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Viktoria Schneeweiß (Author), 2016, Exchange programs. The effects on a young person concerning cognitive and emotional skills, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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