HOW TO GO LIVE ABROAD AT 16 ?
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a travel fan. Indeed, I have always traveled thanks to my parents who were able to transmit their curiosity about the world to me. However, it was at the age of 16 that I left for what would be my first initiatory journey. Thus, I wanted to share with you my journey and how I was able to make a dream come true!
- Where to start ?
- how to choose which organisation to go with?
- how to talk about it to family/friends?
- Get ready for your departure
Before giving you all my advice, I must share my experience. I went to the United States for 10 months without seeing my family and without returning to France. I was 16, and I only dreamed of one thing: traveling, leaving and experiencing new things, so I did everything to make it possible and I left in 2017! This is one of the best choices I have ever made in my life, and I would do it a thousand times. Sometimes, you have to know how to dare and follow your dreams.
Where to start ?
I was in sophomore year at the time, and life meant that I didn't like the environment I was in - a private and fairly elitist high school - that didn't suit me at all, which even gave me more motivation to leave! One day, when I got home from high school, I simply did some research on the internet, "how to go and live abroad as a minor", "how to travel as a minor" ... etc. And I found several organizations that offered high school students a year abroad. I then looked at several websites, to understand the expected requirements of the different organizations.
1 -> Be determined and be sure to understand the experience: 1 year without seeing relatives in a foreign country. Then start the research to find the organization that suits you best and the country you want to discover.
- how to choose which organisation to go with ?
There are hundreds of different associations to start with, so you have to do it according to your personal needs. As far as I'm concerned, I admit that I chose at random, I knew I wanted to go and I really didn't care who with as long as I went. I fell in love with PIE, (Programmes Internationaux d'Echanges)-international exchange program) a non-profit association that was able to accompany me very well on my trip!
However again, I strongly advise you to do your research and make your decision based on what you are looking for! For example, PIE asked me to choose a country, but I did not know where I was going to be located until 1 month before departure. This is explained because the association thinks that it is more important to have a family that really corresponds to us (your file is accessible in all families in the country). Since it is the host family who chooses the student, it all depends on who will set their sights on you! Personally, it was in Wisconsin and it was amazing.
Once you have chosen, you must contact them! It is important that it is you who do it and no one else, it is the beginning of your journey!
2 -> Do a lot of research, and once you've made the decision that's best for you, contact the organization you've chosen. Do it alone: preparing for a trip is the beginning of the journey.
How to talk about it to family/friends?
Being 16, it is pretty obvious that I had to have a lot of talking to convince my parents to let me go. At first, my father strictly refused to let me go on my own and not see me for a year. My mother was more in favor of it because she understood my dream, she knew that it was the best for me. Only, it can be very hard as parents to let your child go and not see him for a long time...
3 -> During your discussions, bring the subject by being very specific and certain about your choice, show them that this is a project you have thought about. Try to rally aunts/uncles/grandparents ... etc (adults) to your cause to help you plead your case! But above all, give them time. Even if this is an exceptional opportunity, it is very hard for parents to let their child go at 16.
- Always have a plan B
It is very important to have a plan B and to enrol in your high school or universities (if you want to do it after your senior year). Even until shortly before departure, you have to expect this not to happen (I know it's frustrating, but the Covid is a good example).
4 -> Always make sure you have a plan B in case something happens (like the Covid :)))
- How to fund my year ?
A year abroad is very expensive, you have to think about: insurance, accommodation, food, travel, activities...etc. However, don't be discouraged, there are several ways to find financing!
To get started it is quite possible to have access to a scholarship to leave, you have to fill out a file: it also depends on the organization with which you are leaving, but I know that PIE offers several scholarships! In addition, you should know that with PIE, families are not paid, it is only based on volunteering. However, the price is still very high. So you can sign up for a scholarship, you can create a fundraising page/event, you can work and try to save...etc. There are plenty of ways to do this!
5 -> Find a way to fund the year, whether it's your parents, a scholarship, a fundraising page, a part-time job...etc, it is an important subject to discuss. It is also a subject to remember during your research, because many organizations are extremely expensive!
- The expectations
One of the best advice I can give you, is to be open to all possibilities. You should not want to go abroad for a year with only Miami, New York City or Los Angeles as your options. You have to be open-minded and be prepared to go anywhere in the country. At the beginning, I thought "oh great, I dream to live in New York, I will choose this city". Only the opposite happened and I do not regret my choice. My second advice will be to go to a place that you absolutely do not know, not to shut yourself off from the clichés of the place. By the way, I wrote an article about clichés and what it is to be an exchange student in Wisconsin. New York is a big city, you will have time to go back alone, only you may not be able to explore an unknown state like Michigan, Minnesota or North Carolina. A family chose me in Wisconsin, I was in a farming family and I loved it: I could not have had a better experience, the total change of scene is what made me open the eyes on lots of things.
6 -> Confront the difference, respect it and explore it, it's fascinating. Don't expect to live in a big city, accept that you can live anywhere. In addition, do not imagine scenarios in your head (well we all did it, that's for sure ... But don't get stuck in a specific scenario), because what you are going to experience will be above your expectations. and unique!
- How to get ready for departure ?
There are so many things to do before to go. First of all, find out all about the climate, the clichés, the location and the customs. It was important for me to know a minimum about the place where I was going to land but it remains your choice to inform you!
Then you have to see what you want to take with you ... In terms of clothes, be aware that you will be there for several seasons. Then, a really important piece of advice: don't take too much clothes. No matter where you go, you will acquire lots of things, souvenirs, typical clothes, gifts...etc. Take what you need but don't take too much.
In addition, I found it very important to have an official 'goodbye party' with your friends and family. Before leaving, I organised a party to say goodbye to everyone, and I think it's a good step for someone who is leaving: it allows you to realize that you are actually leaving and that our loved ones support us in our journey.
7 -> Make researches on where you are going, pack strategically and don't take too much stuff with you. In addition, it is very important to say goodbye to your loved ones before leaving, to create a real seizure with your 'before life', and the life that awaits you.
If you have any specific questions concerning your journey, do not hesitate to contact me, I will be very glad to help you on that !