Being a foreign exchange student can be an exciting experience. Leaving the home country for new horizons, learning about an entirely different culture, and integrating into another lifestyle alien to one’s own can be one of the most interesting undertakings a human can experience. However, there are times when being a foreign exchange student can lead to a nightmarish experience. Here are several terrifying examples of when being a foreign exchange student led to frightening results.
48. Time To Go Home
My host dad was a total jerk. Unlike the rest of the family, he didn’t want to host, so he made sure I feel like an outsider throughout my entire year. calling my traditions weird, calling me lazy, insulting me because I’m from a third world country. Telling me I’m here to waste their money and to give me a budget on my food.
Actually, most of my friends had bad experiences on exchange. One had to change families because her host mom stole her money. My best friend’s host mom went through her phone without her consent and sent the screenshots of her conversation with her boyfriend to her family back home and accused her of all kinds of crap so that they could get her out of their house. Sometimes I wonder what placement organizations are even doing.
47. But Great Scenery
I stayed with a brainwashed, hardcore Mormon host family in Utah. High school exchange students are their mission targets. Everybody in the town is Mormon, everything is revolving around the church. The relationship is very tight, everybody knows everything about everybody. They were two-faced, nice on the surface, but looking down on non-members, always passive aggressive. Real Stepford wives. Very creepy and freaky and boring. Worst place for an international homestay.
46. The Feeding Is Mutual
I’m French, and when I was in high school, I went for a month in England, and then my English friend came for a month in France.
France/England history being what it is, they made me eat disgusting jell-o and boiled mint stew in england, and he ate frogs and snails when he came here. It was a 2 way difficult experience, but we kinda HAD TO.
45. Silver Lining
My dad was a coordinator for exchange students. One of his charges ended up with a horrible family that treated her like a live-in servant. She was moved to a new family but the old one did things like hold her mail hostage. My dad had to get the authorities involved and work with the postal office to get mail redirected. We felt so bad for her. Happy ending though. Second family was amazing to her and she had almost a year with them. She met her future husband at the school she attended. 3 kids later they are still going strong.
44. Beware The Overshare
When I first arrived in the United States my host family wanted to give me a very American welcome; they bought me a root beer float. I have never experience such diarrhea since then. They also accidentally insisted I look at naked pictures of them, like 5 min after I landed (they wanted to show me pictures of my flight landing and being friendly but they forgot about these spiced up pictures in their phone). Good people all in all.
43. Public Embarrassment
I’m doing a year-long exchange in Santiago de Chile right now and did not expect the food to be so disappointing. I knew not to expect the huge variety of food that we have in the US but I mean daaaaaaaamn. Chilean food is pretty bland. Chorrillanas and empanadas are good and all, but I can’t subsist entirely on them. And I never want to see another completo ever again.
It’s also really odd to me that toilet paper usually is not kept in the bathroom stalls. Instead, there is a dispenser by the sink that you have to get the paper from. Not really that bad, but sometimes I do feel a little self conscious when there is a long line and people are watching exactly how much toilet paper I’m helping myself to. I imagine it must be hard for nervous poopers. Actually, maybe that’s why there’s no spicy food. No one wants to risk the public shame. When you march into the stall with fistfuls of toilet paper, people know what’s up.
42. A Very Different Baby Shower
I lived in Morocco for two months with a host family. I speak pretty good Modern Standard, but this family spoke nothing but the local dialect, so I was pretty lost most of the time. One day I was having tea with them in their courtyard and I heard some music. The entire family got really excited and ran out to the street, where there was a huge group of fancily dressed people clapping and shouting and banging on drums.
And carrying a sheep. A hogtied sheep. My family was laughing like crazy so I tried asking what was going on. They told me in broken French that a baby had been born. The men carrying the sheep saw me looking utterly bewildered (I’m very white and very blonde) and put it down about ten feet from me.
And slit its throat.
While I was sidestepping the giant pool of blood and trying to be cool about this because for some reason I thought it would be rude to seem surprised, they invited me to the after-party where they sat in a circle and sang and clapped for hours.
Cultural differences don’t surprise me much after that experience.
41. Thank You All For Being Here
I lived in Senegal and my host brother had a birthday party and asked me to help him plan it. So I did. When we got there he announced to all of his friends that it was actually our engagement party and made me give a speech to tell them how excited I was about our wedding.
40. A Cultural Wasteland
I’m an English student and I’m doing an exchange year studying jazz at the University of North Texas. I’ve been here about a month, and I have mixed feelings. I love learning here; I already feel like I’ve improved loads.
However, I don’t like this town (hopefully I’ll like Dallas more when I go there next weekend). It seems so soulless and new – everyone driving EVERYWHERE was a massive shock too. People get super surprised when I say I walked 2 miles to a gig. I know I’ll start to miss food too, but hopefully I can try and find whatever ‘culture’ North Texas has to offer.
39. Too Friendly For Comfort
I had a stalker. Like a legit, stalker. Well I guess a couple. I went to Finland for my Junior year (16-17) and not only had a neighbor in his mid-20’s tell people he wanted to sleep with me just because I was from California (and eventually tried to corner me at a house party), but a crazy fan. One night I went out to the local dance club and ran into my first host sister, so I was visiting with her outside and all of a sudden I am tackled by this guy and he asks if he can take his picture with me. I didn’t know what to say, so I agreed and he took it with his phone. My host sister went on to introduce him as her classmate and told me he was a huge fan. Apparently all year he had asked when he could come over to the house to meet me and when the newspaper had interviewed me for an article, he memorized everything in it. He started quizzing me about it then and there. It was a bit strange. Especially since my year started just after the initial invasion of Iraq, so I expected a lot of hatred and questions. Granted there were the days that those things happened and when the videos of American’s being beheaded were being released online, there were a few guys during computer class that tried to force me to watch them. Perhaps those things didn’t surprise me because it was exactly what I had been prepared for.
38. Brought On To Help With Their Rebel Teen
Last year I was on a high school exchange program in Russia. When I got there, I realized that my host parents didn’t really want or have the money for a host student, and they weren’t interested in learning about other cultures. The reason I had been taken on was to influence my host sister, a girl who was 15, very shallow, and obsessed with boys and partying. I figured that she was still young and hoped she’d grow out of it. I figured that if I worked hard and tried to learn Russian my host parents would warm to me.
Halfway through the year, I had to start paying for food, which is totally against the rules. In a hotel-like situation it’s not bad, but when you are living in a family, it alienates you and makes you feel like a stranger in what is supposed to be your home, which is pretty hard.
Seven months in, I had to go home to the US for a month for a personal situation, and I found out that my host sister had stolen around $1000 from my credit card (and I don’t have a ton of money other than that).
I switched host families when I went back, and luckily my second host family was really great and I had a good time for the last three months. Also, I know there are a lot of horror stories out there, but never for a second do I regret going on an exchange program. Even in my first host family, I met so many people, learned so many new things (both about Russia and about myself), and I just had a really great time. I would encourage almost everyone to go on an exchange program. It’s not always easy, but it’s so rewarding.
37. Beware the Pick-Pocket Roommate
36. Keeping Mom’s Phone Calls Away
35. Mexican Musical Rooms
I was always so confused by my host family in Mexico. They were constantly switching all of the rooms of the house around, so one week the kitchen would all of a sudden be the living room and I had to track down the new kitchen. This happened every few weeks for the entire year… maybe they were just messing with me.
34. Living With A Criminal
33. Annoying Host Mothers
32. Are You Going To Pay For That Sandwich?
31. Caught Pony-Handed
30. Reincarnating A Certain Youth
29. Don’t Leave The Spanish Host
28. Babushka’s Wild Nightlife
27. Uptight Norwegian Host
26. Fighting Between Mother And Daughter
25. Grandpa’s A Little Too Nice
24. Learning Indonesian Medical Vocabulary
23. Having A Party Before She Passes Away
22. Religious Differences And A Pony Accident
21. Extra Protein
20. Misunderstandings in the Hostel
19. Walking Into A Horror Movie
I was a foreign exchange student in France during high school my senior year. My host family had four kids aged nine, thirteen, fourteen, and sixteen (or close to that). They also hosted another exchange student at the same time from South America who was seventeen.
I didn’t mind all the younger kids. They were fun to play with and I “helped” them write for their English classes. However, my host dad worked in another country bordering France as was only around every other weekend which left my host mom to take care of six kids all the time.
We lived in a small village and it was a good 25-minute drive into the larger town we went to school in so we were very isolated on nights and weekends.
My host mom got pretty stressed out after a few weeks, but I could tell it was really important to her that people see she was capable of handling it. At home she didn’t hide her frustrations at all, she would get pretty red in the face and upset at her younger kids and yell.
About a month in, I was brushing my teeth in the morning and I hear my 13-year-old host brother yelling. The seventeen year old student and I ran out of the bathroom and saw my host mom putting him in a cop-lock and pushing him up against the wall as he screamed and cried. It’s something that’s well ingrained in my memory. She wasn’t even phased when she noticed we were watching with our jaws on the floor.
After we got to school, the seventeen year old student and I were talking about what to do about it. I told him I’d ask my French friends if physical punishment is normal. After asking around, I got a lot of heck-no’s and decided I needed to talk to the regional leader of the exchange student organization.
The leader was a cruel lady and everyone seemed to think so (my host dad included). She was an older woman in change temporarily for the year while the younger lady who usually ran it was working abroad. I called her and told her what I saw and that my host brother and I were pretty scared and didn’t feel comfortable. She told me that it was just part of French culture, I said that’s not what my French friends said, she said they were wrong. She told me that my student friend and I needed to be culturally understanding and that we were having a hard time adapting. She said we needed to be more grateful that we had a nice family with kids and left it at that.
After I’d made the phone call, I noticed my host mom had been acting very coldly towards my student friend and me. She didn’t get mad at us and yell or ignore us completely but she wasn’t interacting with us like normal. This just made us feel more uncomfortable, and I had my suspicions that the wicked-hearted regional leader had told my host mom about the call.
About a week later on a Friday night, I could tell my host mom was acting very strange, she seemed really stressed out, frustrated and disconnected. That night for dinner was rice with tomato sauce (usually she made great food) and she told us we weren’t eating at the table and we could feed ourselves. I saw her sit down with a bowl and I noticed she grimaced with pain. I was eating in another room when I heard her scream louder than I’d ever before and my 13-year-old host brother ran past me yelling in fear. My host mom walked into the room and her face was beet-red, she was filled with rage. She looked at me briefly, said nothing and went upstairs to where my host brother was hiding. My host brother ran back downstairs with my host mom close behind holding a cordless phone. Eventually, she got a hold of him and took him outside into the garage. Soon after he came back inside crying. Three hours or so later, my host dad was home even though he wasn’t supposed to come home that weekend. He said his son had called him and everything was fine. He told us our host mom had severe back pain sometimes and had to take heavy medication for it. I have no clue why it never occurred to them we might want to know that.
I called the regional leader back and told her my student friend and I were scared and we wanted out. She said before they start looking for new host families she would meet with us and our host parents to talk it over and clear things up.
The meeting was just a few days after the garage incident. All of my host siblings, my student friend, my host parents, and the leader were there. I was asked to explain why I was uncomfortable, so I told it all as I knew it and insisted it wasn’t normal in France. My host mom knew I was right, and she started crying pretty hard. It was the most uncomfortable two-hours of my life, but it was decided we’d be leaving after there were new host families for us.
Just two days later the student friend told me we needed to talk, one of his friends’ families had decided to host him for the rest of the year. He said he’d be leaving Friday and he was really sorry to leave me there.
I was there for two long and lonely weeks before I finally found a classmate who was eager to host me temporarily until I found a family for the rest of the year.
Afterward, I found a new host family that was just amazing, I still go see my host brother from that family every year and we have plans to travel together long-term after we’re done with college.
18. “It’s Not Mine, It’s That German Kid’s”
17. Hungarian Child Prison
16. Teaching A Foreign Teenager Chores
15. Life With Nine Roommates Was Actually Not Too Bad
14. Inexperienced Hosts Trying Their Absolute Best
13. Crazed Philadelphia Christian Woman
12. Prepare Before Visiting Peru
11. “I Don’t Believe In Toilet Paper”
10. Host Mom Shares Too Many Secrets
9. Arriving At The Worst Possible Time
I arrived to my host country to the news that the host family I was assigned to just a week before arrival was no longer available (I presume someone died/they got divorced).