Exchange Student Information

Many questions can arise before you go abroad to study in another country. They might not, however, be the questions that are able to be answered. Questions surrounding what the country will be like or how your host family will interact with you are difficult to answer, precisely because you can never know until you experience it.

The questions that can be answered are the more practical. Do you have a passport? Do you know the restrictions of your student visa? Do you know what to pack in your suitcase? These seem like trivial questions that your parents think of, while you’re still curious what your study abroad experience will be like. That doesn’t mean it’s information you should avoid or ignore. Your parents are not traveling with you, are they? They’re not the ones that will be dragging a suitcase around for you, right?

It sounds like you should know these practical things!

There are countless stories of exchange students who have not traveled before without their families.

As an Airport Coordinator for an exchange program, I recall meeting one student who packed his passport in his checked luggage! The problem with that is you don’t always know if you’ll have your passport checked before you have the chance to claim your luggage. Border control police don’t care whether you’re with an exchange program or not. If you don’t have your passport on you (in your pocket, in your carry-on backpack, in a fanny pack), they won’t let you into the country.

The student didn’t realize his mistake until he had checked his bags. He couldn’t get on the plane without his passport. We asked the airport staff if there was a fax machine nearby, to which they said yes. The international terminal had a post office/FedEx type store. We called the student’s parents and asked if they had a copy of his passport they could send to us via fax. Sidenote: Parents! Make a copy of your child’s passport! They did have a copy and they faxed it over. We had to pay for this service, but that’s better than having a 16-year-old minor unable to cross the border. He was able to get on the plane and in the end, things worked out.

Another student that I saw leave that same airport that same summer, went to a different country, loved her host family, made lots of friends. She had a fantastic time and was so excited by all the people she was meeting. Where she lived was close to the border of her country and another country. It was very common for her friends to cross the border and spend long weekends camping in this other country. Apparently, the beaches were better over there! So her friends invited her to join them on a camping trip. She didn’t tell her host family that she was crossing a border to go camping. She went on the trip, got to the border, crossed it. There was no border patrol for leaving her country. Had a great weekend, hanging out on the beach, laughing with friends, eating locally caught fish. When they drove back over the border, her passport was looked at. And she had a lot of trouble getting back in!

She didn’t realize that her student visa prohibited her from leaving the country she was studying in. One of her friends called her host family and told them about the situation. The host family called the exchange program. Eventually, she was let back in to the country, with a note on her passport saying she had violated her visa terms. She was very close to being booted out of her study abroad country. Fortunately for this student, that was the end of her troubles.