I would encourage travel at all ages, but the earlier the better. When we are young we can better learn the lessons that travel teaches us. Children and teenagers live very much within their comfort zone. They have their home, their family, their community and their friends. Established routines in the everyday familiar. Sometimes the thought of breaking out of this cosy zone can be frightening, but it is when children are challenged and move into the unknown that they learn and develop the most and we help with all this in our reciprocal exchange.
Student exchanges can ignite a whole new dimension in young people. They see how other families operate, how different countries and cultures carry out their day to day routines, which can be a million miles away from their own. Being in a new place, with a new family strips away the familiar and forces the child to adapt and to grow. And this new learning, this adapting to new surroundings has a major knock on effect. It gives the child a new-found confidence, albeit from small victories like learning how to navigate the public transport system, how to buy something in a shop in a foreign language, how to order a meal. These seemingly tiny trials build the children’s belief in themselves and gives them a greater understanding of the boundless abilities they have.
Now add to this mix the cultural diversity they encounter. Children and adults have a view of the world, created and cultivated in the culture they come from. We watch from afar and make assumptions based purely on our own small pocket of the earth. When young people spend time in places they have only ever seen on television or visited as part of a family package holiday, it unlocks their minds and gives them a whole new perspective on the world. Far from home, children develop friendships with people who are completely different to them. This teaches them to embrace experiences and relationships that are far removed from their norms. Learning new cultural values and norms is not only fascinating, but also helps them to better understand international issues and conflicts. Coming from a viewpoint of understanding allows children to better understand people and to communicate better with them. Learning this skill at a young age, being able to shift perspectives and see the values and beliefs that other cultures live by, gives children the opportunity to become better people, who will in turn create a better, more tolerant world for us to live in.