Every year, in February, Hills Road Sixth Form College sends some of it's students on an exchange to Hamburg, where we stay for ten days with a host family; we then also host the students when they pay a return visit to Cambridge in March. While we are here, we spend some of our time doing work experience. I have been working in a software company and creating a website containing information about this exchange, which you can see here.
Before deciding to take part in an exchange, there are a few things you should consider:
- Being English, most of the people could explain something to me in English when I didn't understand. When our exchanges come back to England, it won't be so easy for them; most people in England speak little or no German, so being understood could be slightly hard.
- The prospect of working and living for ten days in a completely different place can be daunting for some people; when you get there, people are more than happy to help, but you have to be prepared to experience something quite different to what you're used to.
- Similarly, you have to be prepared to try and speak the language. No-one expects you to be perfect, and if something is too hard to explain in the foreign language then there is no problem trying to make yourself understood in your native one, but many people will talk to you with no concept of how good you are at their language (in fact, they may not even be aware that it is not your first language), and you have to be ready to try and understand them, and reply as best as you can.
However, there are also many positive aspects of an exchange:
- An exchange such as this one, where you are immersed in the language both at home and at work, you learn new words and phrases very quickly. Even if you can't join in with a conversation, you get very used to hearing the language being spoken quite quickly, and soon find it much easier to understand what is going on around you
- Similarly, listening in to conversations and constantly reading things in the foreign language means that you start to absorb it slightly. Without realising it, you start to understand things without directly having to translate it.
- Of course, taking part in conversation is also a very important part of this exchange. Through doing this, you gain confidence in speaking, become better at speaking spontaneously and fluently, and learn to worry less about making errors when you talk.
- It also gives you a chance to learn about the culture of the country. Again, this exchange is especially useful for that, given that you experience both family and working life; you are offered the opportunity to completely immerse yourself and learn a lot about life in the country.
- You are able to make new friends, both with your exchange partners and with people you travelled with whom you previosuly didn't know. Through this, you can also form international links which may be useful to you later; for example, if you wish to work there later in life.