Study Abroad Programs

Parent Q&A

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  • High School Semester in China

    (1 reply)

    My son is interested in doing a high school semester in a Mandarin language immersion program in China. He would prefer to be in the country as opposed to a big city like Shanghai. Does any one have experience with any of the companies that offer semester abroad programs? We'd love to hear from other families who have done this and potentially have advice for us. Thanks in advance for and suggestions!

    I have sent my sons abroad with AFS and in both cases it was a great experience. You can sign up on their website -  - to get some preliminary information (sign up doesn't bound you to go abroad, just let's you get specific info about the various programs they offer). AFS will connect you with students who have recently returned from the country you're interested in so that your son can call and ask them any questions directly.  I highly recommend their programs both for studying abroad and for hosting an exchange student here, which is also a great experience.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


College semester abroad - experiences?

Aug 2014

Hi there, my college junior is going to study abroad in the fall, to Italy. Just wondering if any of you who's kids have done a semester/year abroad have any helpful hints or info that you wished you know beforehand. Phones, communication, insurance, homesickness etc. thank you Cie

Semester abroad was the single greatest experience for my daughter who was in London. I know other kids who went to Italy and they loved it. A few details: we both downloaded Viber app and used it for phone calls and texting - all free. Facetime and iMessages also work but Viber was great, but always needed wifi. (This is if you both have iPhones.) Keep phone in AIRPLANE MODE for no extra charges. She bought a sim card over there and had it installed so had local phone service for a fairly nominal monthly fee. Other programs provide a local cell phone (hers did not.) In airplane mode you have full access to being online with wifi. Her program required medical insurance and our Kaiser covered overseas. Check your insurance. Viber & Facetime are the best hedges against homesickness, which in our case wore off quickly except for times of stress (exams, getting lost, weekends when others all had plans somewhere else.) Best feature of all - travel on long weekends. After her experience I felt my student had really launched. it was great. Peggy

Logistics for college junior semester abroad

May 2013

My daughter will be doing the upcoming fall semester of her junior college year in South America. She is following a similar path as my own but things were quite different 30 years ago! She is bilingual, very responsible & level headed. I'm very excited for her but also a bit anxious. Looking for tips & reassurance from parents whose college students have recently studied abroad. In particular, communication with home, best practices for local cell phone option, how much technology (how do you keep safe cell, ipod, laptop, camera....), managing money (debit or credit card???), health insurance (did you buy additional student/travelers insurance?). Thank you in advance! excited but anxious study abroad mom

Hi Study Abroad mom,

I'm recently back from the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Almost three years. I was a bit older that your daughter (I went when I was 25), but many volunteers are just out of college, so I feel I have a good sense of the safety issues for that age group.

The overwhelming majority of volunteers experienced no ''security incident'' (as we call them) worse than a shirt disappearing off the clothesline. Even those in big, dangerous cities did, by exercising good judgement, stay completely safe. Risk of course cannot be eliminated but it can be greatly reduced. Can I ask what country she's going to? South America, broadly, is far less dangerous than Central right now.

The biggest thing she can do is take a taxi home after dark, and make sure it's a legit taxi by calling a service or learning to recognize the marks of official taxis (the US Embassy in any country can help with this and other security tips - though be prepared to wade through the very scary-sounding language they post).

Alcohol is the biggest culprit in security problems. She can and likely will drink a bit, but the best thing she can do for her safety is to never engage in more than light drinking. And no being on the beach alone at night ever - not even for five minutes.

As for cell phones she will do best I think buying a local phone, and then buying a chip that works on one of the local networks. Getting and maintaining a pay-as-you-go phone could not be easier in Latin America right now. There is basically a duopoly between two companies and they're both good. If she wants to bring a phone from here just make sure it is a SIM card phone, and it is unlocked. An old blackberry or smartphone is a safety plus because she can get a small data package and then use it to stay in touch with you online. Even the non-smart phones can send and receive texts from the US, however, and receive (expensive) calls.

ATMs that work with her bank's credit AND debit card will likely be ubiquitous, but she should bring both. This is another area to be very careful about of course. Only go to the ATM in the day, go with friends if possible. And if ever confronted, give it all up.

The technology should be no problem so long as she keeps it safe in her room for the most part. All those items you mention are becoming rather common among locals as well.

I can't help with health insurance advice, unfortunately.

I am excited for your daughter. I consider my experience a pretty good guide and I know that smart, level-headed, Spanish-speaking young people like your daughter rarely get into trouble, so long as they get a good orientation at the outset and maintain their common sense throughout. Jack

Our daughter did not go to South America but she spent last fall in Madrid and she enjoyed it tremendously. I was a bit anxious about the things you mentioned too, but there were only a few minor glitches and she came back even more confident and mature--haha be prepared for that growth too, you cannot treat them the same afterwards, they'll let you know! You said ''things were different 30 years ago'' when you went, but gosh, many things are easier no? Credit and debit cards that work worldwide, FaceTime, iMessage, Skype, Viber, Facebook, email... you'll be far more in touch with her than your parents were with you! And of course a local cell phone would prob. be useful for her local needs. I don't know what college your daughter goes to, but these programs are pretty well run these days in terms of finding good (or at least adequate) hosts, giving them all kinds of info about staying safe, keeping their things safe, health insurance (it was part of the tuition in our case--and she did use it for a hospital visit after a bad cold). Of course nothing is 100% risk free but your daughter knows that, as you did 30 years ago! From what you described of your daughter, you'll be even more impressed with her after she returns. Enjoy! Kaveh


High School Study Abroad Programs

Oct 2011


My 15 year old 9th grade daughter wants to study abroad next year (sophomore year) for a semester. She will have 2 years of Spanish and would like to go to a Spanish speaking country. She actually prefers Central or South America, but may consider Spain. What are the best organizations for this type of experience? I want to make sure the organization is well organized and respected. What is the average cost? Are there organizations that ensure a quality experience, perhaps with some community service or theme? She has spoken to her high school counselor, and we also want to get a variety of options. If you have had an experience that was successful, I would like to hear about it. Thanks for your help! Study Abroad Mom

I hope your daughter has an idea WHY she wants to be an exchange student. Is it to travel? See other countries? Learn a different way of life or another language? Is living with another family and going to school some more the best way to do what she wants? If she'll be 18, would she prefer to be an au pair with a family and get paid, or a volunteer with a conservation program abroad?

AFS is a very reputable student exchange program. I've known students, from the U.S. and from other countries, who've had good experiences and others who've had bad experiences-- it can be a matter of temperament, ''fit'' with the family, or (lack of) support at the school (like the bright European student put in vocational classes in the U.S. instead of with the college-bound students). Your student might end up in a family with no other teens, or the family might live in an isolated rural area. Or the family may have tensions that have nothing to do with the student but make her very uncomfortable.

AFS doesn't let you pick the language or country you want, only the hemisphere, which can be a blessing in disguise, according to students I've known who've ended up in Brazil and Italy. This is my two cents.

Ok, so I initally had a much more thorough reply, but the newsletter has made me edit it, so here are the basics, please feel free to contact me for a more information:

Hello, your daughter should be commended for wanting to contribute in a small, but significant way, to global peace and understanding.

There are several websites you might want to take a look at, here are just two: Dept. of State website . Somewhat confusing site, but a good place to start. Also there is a non-profit council (CSIET) who's mission statment is to identify reputable international youth exchange programs:

I have a sophomore who is also interested in foreign exchange and I also happen to be a DOS Certified, Local Coordinator. As a Local Coordinator, I see the other end of these programs, I find host families and monitor the student while they are here in the US.

Here are a few questions to ask potential programs: 1) Cost? What is included in that cost? Airfare? 3 meals a day? Local transportation to school? Insurance? School fees? 2) How are families,homes and students evaluated? If you just pay a fee and the student is in without any testing etc. this probably speaks to how they evaluate their host families. Ask for references from former students. 4) How often are the students and the host families contacted? Via in person contact? Phone? email? 5) If it is not a ''good fit'', what are the steps taken to move the student? 6) What is their business model? How are the families and Local Coordinators compensated?

You may also, want to consider hosting yourself prior to her departure so that you have a better understanding of what your daughter will be going through and how the program operates (many orgs also give you credit towards your students travel abroad).

The Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI) is a 25 year old non-profit, exchange organization with an environmental slant. Our students are encouraged (via trips and prizes) to contribute to their host communities via social welfare projects and conservation efforts, education and conscious living. We facilitate almost 10,000 exchanges each year. Our website is Also, have your daughter take a look at our blog and she can read about US students currently abroad at:

Good luck! Candace

I highly recommend SYA (School Year Abroad). My son went to China, but they have an excellent program in Spain. It is very highly regarded among College Admissions (if that matters to you). While they have ''affiliate'' schools, the program is open to everyone. Good Luck! Trish


UC Study Abroad Program in Madrid?

Feb 2011


My daughter who is a junior at UC Berkeley just heard that she has been accepted to the study abroad program for the fall. She will be going to Madrid,Spain. I am happy for her but also nervous. Has anyone sent their child on one of these programs? The details about who the ''host family'' is sound vague and she apparently won't know who she has been assigned to until she gets there. Outside of the living situation, how safe is it? Any insight would be greatly appreciated. wary of foreign countries

This is a fantastic opportunity for your daughter, and you should not worry any more on her account when she is in Madrid than when she is at Cal. Madrid is a wonderful city and not particularly dangerous in my experience.

First, to reassure you, there will be at least one U of C person on site for the program, and the students have someone to turn to if anything becomes problematic either with the host family or her courses. There will also be other American students there in case she gets lonely/homesick. And nowadays you can chat with each other with a visual image on Skype, she can share photos of where she lives instantly, etc. She will not seem so far away if you can contact her regularly and speak face-to-face (virtually).

Finally I want to say a word about how important these programs are. If a person wants to learn to speak a language -- really speak it and understand the spoken language -- he or she MUST go to a country where it is spoken and live there for a while. I say this as a professor of foreign language and literature. It is really imperative for young Americans to learn about foreign culture as well, and living in a foreign culture is the best way to figure out that our culture is not the only possible way of life. And these experiences can be life-transforming in other ways, too, teaching self-confidence and giving the person a stronger sense of self. My life was transformed by a study abroad program and improved immensely. I try to make all my students go. Encourage your daughter, and go yourself! You can allay your own fears that way. traveling mom

This is probably not what you want to hear, but here goes: You ask ''Has anyone sent their child on one of these programs?'' She is not a child, and you are not sending her. She is, I'm guessing, 20 or 21 years old. She has applied to, and been accepted at, an academic program. It already provides a host family -- more coddling than should be necessary for a soon-to-be senior in college. If the host match isn't good, she is (or should be) perfectly capable of handling the situation.

When I was a college sophomore in 1978, I went to Paris for a study abroad program. There was no host family, or housing help: We all had to find our own housing. We all did fine. My husband, in the same program a few years earlier, spent the semester living in a VW bus below the Eiffel Tower. He did fine (and has great stories). The world was much bigger and challenging then -- before cell phones and credit cards and Skype. Fast forward 30+ years: My son took a gap year between HS and college last year. He traveled the world, and made all his own travel and accommodation arrangements (including, in France and Hungary, arranging host families). Sometimes, we only knew which country he was in because his phone had a tracer feature. He was 18 years old, and did great. After that, we are confident he can handle anything life sends his way. Time to Stop Hovering

Answer to ''wary of foreign countries.''

Madrid can be as safe as any big city that has more than three million people. It depends on where you are, with whom you are, and what you do. People there, as people here, have values, manners, and respect each other. Your daughter experience there is going to depend largely on how she carries herself. And no one can guaranty total safety in Madrid or anywhere.

As a foreigner (from Spain), as a mother of a student who spent a year abroad in Perugia, Italy, and who also spent many months of his life in Spain, and as a former UC lecturer that had students who spent a year abroad in Madrid and was there while the students were there, I can tell you that most of the experiences that the students had and that I am aware of were positive. I can also tell you that I have seen American students and other foreign students totally ''losing it'' and not knowing what to do with so much freedom away from their parents and in a foreign country. It is not only of foreign countries that one should be wary of.

I hope your daughter has a wonderful experience in Madrid. Madrid es mucho Madrid. Victoria

I'm sure you'll get lots of responses like mine, but I do have to write in too, to ask you not to worry about your daughter going to Spain! She is a junior in COLLEGE....which means she's about 21 years old! By the time I was your daughter's age I'd already gone on three foreign study/home-stay experiences: Mexico as a 14 year old (for the summer), France as a gap year at 17, and India for a semester as a junior in college. So Madrid for a 20-21 year old? No problem!

But from a parent's perspective, I understand that one's child is always one's ''child'', even when they're 21 (or in my case, 50 - my mother still worries about me when she hears I've been out driving on a rainy day, bless her!) But if your daughter applied to a study abroad program, then obviously she's interested and ready to try something new and different. And as to the host families not being known, that's normal. Don't add that to your worries - they're usually great, and if there's an issue, she can probably change families.

And while I'm sure people may jump down your throat for your statement that you're afraid of foreign countries, well, at least you're honest. Lots of people (especially Americans) are afraid of the unknown. But if I were Spanish, I'd be more afraid of sending my daughter to the United States...especially to the Bay Area! On a per capita basis (from U.N. statistics), the murder rate in the U.S. is 3x that of Spain, we have more than 3x more assaults, 4x more total crimes per capita, twice as many rapes, we have more motor vehicle deaths...really, you name it...the U.S. is a dangerous, scary least it would look that way to a Spanish parent!

So yes, there is theft in Spain, pick-pocketing in tourist areas, etc., and I suppose there is the theoretical threat from the ETA Basque separatists, although there have been no attacks on civilians since 2004. The world is a dangerous place, the world is a wonderful place, please let your daughter go to Spain. Oh, and by the way, I'm sending my 15 year old daughter to Spain this summer!

No te preocupes....(don't worry...) Natasha B.

The overall UC study abroad program has a website, and your child's UC's study abroad program has another. I strongly recommend you spend a couple of evenings exploring them. There will be lots of valuable general information, including the timeline for payment and submission of various paperwork (yes, there's paperwork even after she's been accepted), and quotes from students who have returned. Your local UC study abroad office should put your student in touch with students who have returned from Madrid, who can give him or her local information.

I found the most valuable information buried deep in the 80 page online handbook. For instance, the third world country my son went to requires proof of ability to pay if you need emergency medical care, so I put him on my Visa account and sent him with a credit card to be used only in emergency. This was on top of the pretty comprehensive insurance that comes with the UC study abroad program.

As far as your daughter's safety goes-- she'll attend several days of orientation there, and get to know the liaison person. Madrid is a big city, and in all big cities your daughter should keep her eyes open, a tight hold on her purse, and probably not travel alone at night. Check what the State Department's website says about travelling in Spain. Spain is experiencing a recession right now so probably property crimes are up.

As far as the host family goes, they will probably be kind but it may or may not be a good fit; she may not get close to them, but it will be a good learning experience to figure out what's due to a cultural difference and what's a temperamental difference, or which tension is due to adjusting to the American student and which tensions already existed in the family.

When my son studied abroad we talked frequently on Skype. It's great to talk face-to-face, and it's a very small program to install

Don't worry too much

This is from a friend, a senior at U of wisconson, from Berkeley who spent last year in Madrid- Spain is a lot like the US in most regards. I would say I felt safer in Spain than in the US, though one should always be aware of their surroundings and a girl should not be walking alone late at night. I met a girl who went to Madrid through the UC Berkeley program that told me she was coming home from dinner at around midnight and was robbed at knifepoint in the Retiro neighborhood, though in the year I lived in Madrid I had never heard of other violent crimes like that. People would stay out later and you would see families taking strolls with their children around midnight. Guns are illegal in Spain, so there isn't as much violent crime, though pickpocketing was definitely an issue and I know a lot of people who were pickpocketed or had their purse stolen (myself included). Also, in Madrid they always warned us about the Lavapies neighborhood- I would not wander around there at night. There were a few other neighborhoods to avoid, though that's the only one I could think of off the top of my head. You just have to be aware of your surroundings! Good luck! k


Berkeley High School semester abroad?

Jan 2011


Does anyone have experience or advice with a BHS junior doing her/his first semester abroad? My daughter, now in AC, has the opportunity to live with good friends in Dublin next fall and we're trying to figure out how it could work/coordinate with school. She would likely be registering for AP classes at BHS and I wonder about doing only the second semester of them next year. Thanks! mom

Our daughter went abroad for a semester, the second half of sophomore year. Doing it sophomore year was much easier than junior year as she will she did not miss much of the pre-college testing. The biggest impediment: the registrar at Berkeley High. You have to un-enroll your child from BHS, and then re-enroll when she returns. That process is not too difficult, but it took us over THIRTEEN MONTHS to get her grades from Australia added to her transcript at BHS. Socially, for our daughter, it was a great time. She is independent and loved it. We had to be very careful that her History class she took in Australia matched the curriculum of BHS otherwise it was likely she would not have enough credits for graduation. Please feel free to email me to chat more. Camilla


European study abroad for Berkeley High School student

April 2010


My son, a high school freshman in IB at Berkeley HS, is interested in spending a semester overseas next year, ideally Britain or France. The IB folks don't seem to have alot of info. We're looking for a high school program, not one of the summer vacation language schools. Anyone out there with any experience or recommendations? Parent of a teen

Hi there, I am a Local Coordinator for Council for International Educational Exchange. We have quite a few programs for American High school students to go abroad for a semester or two. If you are interested visit our website: for detailed information and application procedures. I believe we have a study abroad program in France, but not Britain. Please note, if you decide to host an international student in your home, we provide 10% discount to American students going abroad. Something to consider and have a true cultural and language exchange. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at nisso.rahmonova [at] or 925 457 9914 Good luck, Nisso

The most extraordinary study abroad program I had was through the Experiment in International Living. I was 14 at the time. I am 50 now which shows what an impact it left on me. I am still friends with the woman I traveled with. I went to Mexico and studied intensive spanish for three weeks, although they have lots of other programs to choose from besides language immersion. You may also want to check out the American Institute for Foreign Study I did that one as well to Britain and enjoyed it immensely. Good luck! Lis


Keeping in Touch and health Q's - college year abroad

May 2008


Looking for suggestions on keeping in touch with my daughter when she spends the year in Italy in a college program, next year! What about Skype? JahJah? AIM (Instant Messenger) on your computer? How available are computer connections? How costly? What about cell phone service within Italy? Do we get a ''service''? Sign up for a plan? Finally: What about health insurance for the student abroad? Apparently, the EU now requires that non-EU students buy health insurance to get a student visa. One website says you can walk in to any Italian post office and get it. But how much does that cost? The college says we should buy their health insurance for service abroad, but it's expensive, and not sure what it would cover (their mandatory $1400/year U.S. service does not cover much). Thanks for any and all advice and suggestions!

Skype is very effective for keeping in touch. It's nice if you can have a webcam as well so you can see faces and other stuff. Sometimes being in different timezones can mean you're always remembering to call when the other person is fast asleep. Even better than skype - a lot of EU countries have a free internet phone number associated with internet access - the calls cost nothing even for international. It would be worth checking out whether Italy has that. Cell phone costs tend to be high but it means there's a number where you can reach them anytime. As far as health insurance, there are lots of options in the form of travel insurance. You definitely need decent coverage for peace of mind. Fiona


Medical insurance for teen studying abroad?

April 2008


Next year my daughter will be at school in Florence. Her college here wants us to buy medical insurance -- but I don't see why she needs it. Any suggestions? When we were in Italy, my husband became ill, went to a local hospital, was seen by a doctor and 4 others (xrays, etc), all for free. Then he got a prescription that was filled at the local pharmacy for $12. I am also interested in trip interruption insurance, in case she became so ill she had to be sent home. Any suggestions? Thanks very much

My daughter will be studying abroad next year in a different EU country than your daughter and there (as of Sept, 2007) it is now mandatory that all third-country (not EU) students have private medical insurance. Her country implemented this requirement based on The European Council directive issued on 13 December 2004 (2004/114/EC) on the conditions of admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service (so called student directive). Since she will be there less than two years she is required to have insurance that will cover medical treatment costs up to 100,000 Euros. She will still be able to use the university health service (covered in her student union fee) but as I understand, this private insurance is more intended to cover pharmaceutical costs.

I think you should check with the Italian Embassy to find if there is any mandatory insurance requirement.


How to minimize cost of college semester abroad

March 2008


Looking for advice about ways to minimize costs for college student who wants to do semester abroad -- I have heard that if you do it through a school in another country instead of your own university it can be much more economical. Anybody have any experience/advice on how this works?

Our daughter did a semester of study in Spain through a US college. The cost was US college tuition plus study abroad fee that included accommodations. In aggregate, it was more expensive than a semester in US college would have been. She then stayed for a second semester in Spain and registered at a Spanish public university through the Erasmus program, which is a European Union agreement to encourage EU students to study in other EU countries. Her tuition for her second semester in Spain was under $1,000. She was entirely on her own, however, without support from a US college program, e.g., registered for courses on her own, courses all in Spanish, arranged her own accommodations, managed independent daily living. Powerful experience for her and much less expensive for us. Would have been stretch for her to arrange and survive on her own for the first semester, however. pleased parent

Our son went to Australia last year. He attends a CSU and CSU and many other schools participate in a Bilateral Exchange program. The exchange program does mean you have to make all the arrangements on your own, registration, housing, air, etc. but in reality it was about what it would have cost us if he stayed here for that semester. We actually got lucky and sublet his apt all the way through the summer, saving us 3 mos of rent we had expected to have to pay that covered his airfare and even expense money. Because he had to do everything on his own, it was a much greater challenge for him (and for us) but he gained much more. He also wasn't with a group of US students as you are in a study abroad program. The school he went to did have a large international program and did a lot of support and orientation when he got there, but he was pretty much on his own.

Big savings tip - check with the local banks to see which one has collaboration with a bank in the country your child is going to. We discovered that Bof A had a partner bank in Australia that was just as prevalent everywhere in Australia - it meant that our son could use his BofA ATM card at their atm machines for no cost!!! I could deposit money here, and he could get it there at an optimum exchange rate and no fees. Huge savings! (you just can't shop with it, just use it to get cash, there are big fees to use it outside of the atm). You can likely find a similar set up for most European banks, just call around here. been there


Study Abroad programs in France for high schooler

Feb 2007


Has anyone had experience with high school programs in France for either a semester or a year? I have a teen who would like to spend their junior year in France. We are looking into SYA, a clear frontrunner and amazing program. Just hoping someone has some input for us. Thank you. parent of a francophile

I went to Rennes, France with School Year Abroad 25 years ago (yikes!). I wholeheartedly recommend it. I went my senior year of high school, was able to get all the credits I needed to graduate since SYA brings their own English and Math teachers from the U.S., and arrived back in time for graduation and parties with my American class. I encourage you and your daughter to consider going her senior year. My classmates and I found that it's a much easier transition to college than back to high school. I don't have any regrets about missing my senior year, and feel my experience with SYA helped me to get into an Ivy League college. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions. SYA is an excellent, well-run program abroad that will have a lifetime impact on your daughter. Susan

SYA programs ARE amazing - my son did SYA China in 2004-5 I'm sure they can put you in touch with France alum families who can confirm this. (I can connect you with two whose children did BOTH France and China). AFS also has semester and year long programs in France, in which students live with a French family and attend a French high school. AFS is much less costly than SYA (although SYA has need- based scholarships) but I believe it is not nearly as comprehensive in terms of organization, supervision and issues like transferring credits to your child's high school, and helping with the college planning and application process. (Recommendations from junior year teachers are often quite significant in college applications). optimoms


High school sophomore in Italy for a year

March 2006


My Berkeely High School freshman will be spending her sophmore year in Italy. We have to decide whether to send her to a local Italian school (she hasn't studied the language much) or send her to a private English-speaking school. If you have a teen who has spent a year abroad, did they attend a local school or a private school? How hard was it for them to adjust? Did not knowing the language create a social barrier with other students? Did they learn anything? How hard was it coming back into high school? I'd like to hear about your experience.

I had previously posted a query about my Berkeley High School freshman who will be spending her sophmore year abroad. I wanted to clarify that it will be in Milan,Italy; that the family is going; and that I would like to hear about the following issue. Is the difficulty and social isolation of adjusting to high school in a foreign language (my daughter knows very little Italian) worth it?

Although less language learned, it is also a less painful adjustment to attend a private English-speaking internations high school which is culturally not that different from high schools here. Does the easier route make more sense? If you or your teen have had any personal experience on the subject, I'd enjoy hearing about it.

I spent a year in Rome with my three sons and we sent them to a British-American school. Most of the other students were Italian (wanting to learn English), so they made Italian friends, learned plenty of Roman slang, and still kept up their schooling so it was no problem to return to American schools the following year. Conversely, a good friend had a different experience during a year in Florence with her three children. She sent them to an Italian school. They had a very hard time adjusting, due to language difficulties, though all eventually became fluent. The big problem was when they returned to the American system because their Italian grades of ''sufficiente'' -- which means good and is a passing grade in the Italian system -- were translated as ''C's'' here, not at all what ''sufficiente'' means over there. If you can at all afford the American/British option, it would mean the least disruption for your student, both over there and once back here. Or make sure before you go that your high school regards ''sufficiente'' as at least a B when translated into American grades. marissa

I think one thing to consider is what you want from the year for your daughter. Do you want her to keep up with her schooling (is repeating a year here a desirable option at all?) or do you want her to become a fluent Italian speaker?

My year in Sweden at age 17 living with a host family and attending public school was one of the hardest but most rewarding years of my life. Getting over the language barrier was difficult but by Christmas (I had arrived in August) I had my first dream in Swedish and was pretty fluent when I left a year later. Language was a bit of a social barrier. I did not make any lasting friends and if I hadn't had my host sister I think it would have been a pretty lonely year. I did enjoy doing things with acquaintances--often other foreigners--so I wasn't an outcast by any means.

I did learn some things in school, even in Swedish. Math was not a strong subject for me and even more difficult in a foreign language. I enjoyed science--still know the endocrine glands in Swedish. :-) I enjoyed their English class and learned a lot just from seeing language and literature from a different perspective. History was a little difficult but I enjoyed learning a bit about Swedish history. PE was a welcome respite.

From the many people I know who have spent a high school year abroad (both with exchange programs and their families) it is a really difficult experience (I don't know anyone who has just sailed through) but an amazing year of personal growth. It does make going back to American high school an equally difficult transition--I don't think you can get around that. It's such an eye opening, maturing experience and it sets you apart from the ''silliness'' of American high school. Sally


Son wants to go to Japan as foreign exchange student

Oct 2001


My HS junior wants to go to Japan for a year as an exchange student. We visited Japan last year and he is obsessed with going back. He is doing very well in a college-level Japanese class this year but is otherwise a rather poor student. I want to encourage him to follow this one interest he has besides video games, but I am worried about 3 things: 1) can he hack Japanese schools when he can only manage Cs here? 2) the Japanese school year apparently runs March-Nov which means half his senior year and part of college would be missed 3) I don't know if I can bear for him to be gone for a whole year

Anyone have experience sending a highschooler off to a faraway country for a year? Or just general advice? Thanks

The criterion for acceptance to exchange programs when I was in high school (25 years ago) included being PASSING in all courses. No more than that. One year the committee had to decide whether to recommend a boy in the situation of being an unmotivated student, nice kid but not much academically... They approved him. Going away for a year completely changed his life -- for the better. Having previously never been out of town, he suddenly discovered a whole new world, and decided to become a part of it. On return he attended the State University, and did well enough to get into Wharton (U Penn) Business School. He might have been happy on the farm...but his impact on the world has been bigger since he left.

Everyone I knew who did an exchange program benefited from the experience -- ASSUMING IT WAS A REPUTABLE, WELL RUN PROGRAM. The boy I knew who went to Japan had the hardship of doing Senior year afterwards, due to scheduling problems...he then went to college and became a pediatrician, married and had a family. It certainly worked for him -- and his mom got through the year without him ok, too. Good luck. Heather

It is very difficult to send an American student to Japan. I doubt he'd be able to graduate from high school missing a year of American education. My friend and her son spent a year in Japan and upon their return, her son is now repeating 5th grade--this is making his adjustment, academically and socially, back home very difficult. There are programs in Tokyo where you can attend an American school and take Japanese courses (I can't remember the name of the school, but I think there may be more than one, and I could find out for you through some Japanese friends). However, beware, they're extremely expensive. If your child will put it off for awhile, my advice is that he should raise his grades, get into a college that offers a good Education Abroad Program (UC's all offer them) and find the one that's best for study in Japan. He should continue his Japanese language studies. They're the most challenging and grueling courses to take in college (you must learn to write in three different styles--Kanji, Hiragana and Katagana). EAP studies are offered in the Sophomore or Junior year of college, and if he's really good at his studies and still has a driving interest to learn more Japanese, he could even be offered some sort of scholarship to study in Japan. --jahlee

My daughter went to Japan for a summer exchange through an excellent program called Youth for Understanding International Exchange. They also have year-long study options available. Their website address is

The deadline to apply for next summer is very soon AND there are some scholarships available. (Some are sponsored by the US government and some are paid for by the Japanese Ministry of Education.) The program volunteers do extensive interviews of candidates and the orientation before departure and in Japan was excellent. Rosemary