Getting Started in Georgia
German exchange student with host parents in front of a high school

German's advice on finding your way

My name is Hannah and I’m from Germany. I am currently doing an exchange year in Georgia with the Ham family. My host family consists of my mom, my dad, my grandpa, and two dogs.

When I first got here, my host family, my local coordinator, and friends of my host family were waiting for me holding up signs that said, “It was meant to be.” It was so sweet and I was so happy.

After I arrived, my family took me to a restaurant, because they thought I would probably be hungry. They were right. I was really tired, but my family understood because they have hosted seven other exchange students before me.

Before I came here, one of my goals was to make a list of everything that’s different—the trucks, the refills for free, and more. But after a few days, I noticed that would be hard, because everything is different. Even the squirrels! I concluded that you simply can’t compare these two countries, because they are so different. That is always my answer when someone asks me what I like more.

It was also the case with school. It is not worse or better. It is just different. The first days of school were very exciting—not only because everything was new but also because I needed to organize a lot and had to find my classrooms. However, anytime I had a hard time finding a room I just asked students around me, and everyone was so nice and helped me. Sometimes, students would even come up to me and ask if I needed help finding my classroom.

At lunch, someone came up to me and asked me if I wanted to eat with them, because the person saw I was alone. They didn’t even know me or share a class with me. Everyone was just so nice, helpful, open minded, respectful, and interested, including the teachers. The relationship between teachers and students is also way closer and relaxed than where I come from. Everyone just wants to have a good time together.

The relationship between teachers and students is also way closer and relaxed than where I come from.

I know that people are often scared about not finding friends abroad, but if you are nice and talk to others you won’t have problems at all. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m just bad at remembering names or met so many new people that I can’t remember all their names.

One important thing I have already learned is that you need to trust the process. For me, that was mostly the case with finding friends. You probably won’t make your best friends on the first day of school, and that’s okay. Building friendships takes time. That might sound hard, but what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t be disappointed when you don’t hang out with someone every weekend. You will meet the right people.

One important thing I have already learned is that you need to trust the process.

The next thing I learned is that you should try everything. Not only because you are only here for one year but also because joining after-school activities is the best way to make friends. I tried out for flag football. Although I didn’t make the team I still got to know a lot of people, and it was fun. Trying church was similar. I know that most teenagers are probably not interested in church, and I felt the same. But after I gave the church here a try, I loved it. If my host parents hadn’t told me that it was a church, I would probably not have noticed it. It was so modern and different from what I’m used to.

Looking back, I can also say that it really doesn’t matter where you go. I think the most important factor is your host family and not where you live. The composition of your host family also doesn’t matter. My dream was a host family with children, but I think the host family I got is the best I could ever get.

For me, just watching a show with them and their friends or getting coffee with my host mom and driving around is a perfect evening. It’s something very small, but it makes me so happy. We already went to Atlanta and visited the Stranger Things settings. I have only been here for a couple of months, but if someone told me I had to go back right now, I would cry.

I hope I could share some of the experiences and lessons I have learned so far and maybe even made you think about doing an exchange year, too.

—Hannah (Germany), hosted by the Ham family (GA)