Exchange during Covid


Ella Oezen, Staff Writer

When the pandemic started everything changed. The process of becoming a foreign exchange student was no exception. Did the pandemic make the process harder or easier?

Before you start applying to different foreign exchange agencies, you obviously have to get some information about them, and then find the one that fits best for you. Some might say I wouldn’t be a good role model in that case. I heard about a scholarship and that was pretty much my only option. For the scholarship, it was predetermined what agency we have to use. I ended up looking up the agency that I needed to use and found out that it was actually pretty cheap.  When I saw that, it was obvious for me that I will be using that agency no matter what. For that agency, I already filled out an online application at the end of March 2020. For the scholarship, I couldn’t fill out an application until September. 

In order to complete the process for the scholarship, I first filled out the application. It was another online application, and then I just had to wait. I honestly don’t remember much about that process because I ended up not getting it. After a while, I got an email saying that I got into the process of selecting a scholarship holder. I had to write an essay about why I wanted to go to the United States and why I applied for that scholarship. At the beginning of December, I had a selection interview. This included about six or seven kids, including my best friend and I. We had to know a few things about the United States, as well as a few things about Germany. It was a political scholarship so we had to know some politicians and presidents. We also had to prepare a presentation about a current event. I did mine about how covid affected my hobby, which is volleyball. At the beginning, we had to introduce ourselves in English. Then the people who interviewed us asked us a few political questions and then we had to present our presentations. After listening to the presentations from the other kids, we had to ask them questions. We also had a separate interview shortly after the group interview. After that, I was pretty sure I would not get it. About two weeks after the interview, I received a letter confirming that I didn’t make it. That was the only scholarship I applied for.

After I applied to my agency in March, I waited for several months until I got the date for my interview. I was very excited but honestly I was kinda weird during that interview. I just got asked regular questions. Before I had that interview, I had to write another letter about why I wanted to go to the United States. After that Interview, I waited two weeks until I had to sign the contract. After I signed that contract, I waited about a month until I was told who my American agency was. On January 5, I  got an “application package” which I had to fill out by February 5. It included several short essays, a letter to my soon to be host family, a letter from my parents to my soon to be host family, a few pictures of me and my friends, my grades, a letter from my English teacher and my class teacher (in Germany we have classes that contains up to 25 kids and the class teacher is like a homeroom teacher), a few things about my family and hobbies and just some basic information about me. I had to take the ELTIS (European Local Transport Information Service) test, a test with a writing, listening and reading part for exchange students, to “prove” that I sure can understand English and I had to make a three minute video about myself. Included in that package was also a check up note from my doctor, a list of all of my vaccinations (I actually had to get a bunch more in a couple months), a copy of my passport and another contract my parents and I had to sign. When I submitted my application package, I had to wait. 

Finally on March 28, 2021,  I got home from my last school day and got a call from my agent saying I have a host family! I had practice that day so I tried to get in contact with my host family when I got home. For some reason, it didn’t work so I contacted my agent from my American agency, who later turned out to be the best friend of my host mom. After that, I finally was able to get in contact with my host mom. We called once before I came here. About three weeks after I got my host family my agency arranged a zoom call where we learned everything possible about our exchange year. At that zoom call I met Mats, another exchange student from Germany, and we became good friends since we knew that we would be in the same place. On July 15, me and my dad went to Berlin (capital of Germany) to get my visa. I needed to get the visa to be able to come here. Before we went to Berlin, we had to fill out a bunch of documents. My mom did most of it and she said it was extremely stressful for her. At one point one document said that if we lie during that application process my name with all my information will be in the documents of the FBI and I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the United States ever! That was kind of scary, if I’m honest. Anyways, we made it! My visa got approved and was in the mail a week after we went to Berlin. About two days later, I got my visa in the mail. I didn’t know the final date of my flight was taking off until the Wednesday before. This gave me about four days to wash everything and pack everything up.  I assumed that I would leave on August 1 because my visa was required to start that day. My final flight date ended up being August 2 because the flight on August 1 was completely booked. 

So for the question, did covid make it easier or not, I personally would say it made the process to go on exchange easier. Before the pandemic, you had to travel to everything, every interview. It would have been more fun if the interview would have been in person rather than on a Zoom call, and for a few days (that’s how it usually is) but it was still a learning experience and I still found some friends.