Your child may want to spend a year abroad and go to school there. Besides the fact that your teenager may be living in a different country for several months, you may also be concerned whether he will learn anything or if it will be just one long and expensive vacation.
At age 16 I spent ten months in California as a junior at a local public high school. I chose classes I couldn’t take in my home country, Germany. I also opted out of some that were mandatory for me back at home. Looking back I think I had a good mix of interesting, fun classes as well as educational classes.
Depending on the program you go with, as well as the country you are going to there may be some rules as far as what will be mandatory. For me only English was mandatory. The reason behind that was that I had already decided to repeat that year once I got back to Germany.
At home I had been taking Latin for years and I needed one more year to finish it. I had the option to skip the year and just take a test. If I passed I could move up to the next grade, if I failed I had to repeat the year.
I chose to repeat the year no matter what so I had more choices in the classed I took in California. I started with poetry/semantics for my English class, interior design, P.E., drama class, anatomy and sculpture/ceramics.
I quickly decided that interior design was not for me and switched to computer applications which proved itself to be very useful as I learned a lot of programs that I still use at work today. Back then I was thinking about studying medicine so I chose anatomy. I knew a lot of what we were doing in class from my German biology classes but I didn’t know the words to say what I needed to say in English. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a dictionary to help me translate the anatomical terms, so I opted out of that class and chose biology instead.
I believe that was my favorite class as it was so very different from the way we teach biology in Germany. There everything is strictly out of the books, no hands on learning. But in California I had the chance to work in a lab, putting everything we learned to the test. Back in Germany I decided to major in English and Biology and a lot of what I learned in California I found myself studying again during that time, giving me an advantage over my fellow students.
You may have noticed that I didn’t have any math classes that year. I never really liked math and that was one of my “fun” options to not take that subject since I would go back and repeat that year in Germany anyways.
Every single one of my classes taught me a lot, even drama class, as I later on had to speak in front of large groups quite frequently and drama class helped me with performance anxiety. And even though English was mandatory, I don’t know how much difference it would have made in my language skills had I not taken that class.
Within weeks, two to three months at the most, you start to think in the language of the country you are in. I even had dreams in English. I didn’t have to sit there and think about what I wanted to say and then translate it. It became natural to me. My fluent English has been a huge plus in my life as I worked for a local German newspaper for several years and became the “Army Liaison”, writing about everything the Army did in our town.
Looking back I think I had the perfect mix. After all, you also want to experience things that you wouldn’t be able to do in your own country. When you make the decision to let your child go to school in a different country, be sure to check out the different programs that are offered for exchange students and find one that you like and trust. Discuss schedules with your child, see what is mandatory and how much fun you allow – you are the one paying for all of this, so you should have some input. And finally check your school at home and see what has to happen once your child is back at home.
After that you are good to go and believe me when I say and experience like living in a foreign country without your parents, handling difficult situations on your own and everything else that is involved, is nothing that can be taught in a classroom.