How to Interview a Foreign Exchange Student

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When a foreign exchange student comes to the U.S., it can be a learning experience for both the exchange student and the other students in the school where she comes to study. In some larger schools, though, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for the exchange student to meet and interact with all students, and some American students may feel uncomfortable approaching the exchange student. Interviewing the foreign exchange student for a school newspaper or other project is a great way for students to learn more about their new classmate while also giving the exchange student a chance to share more about himself and his home country.

1 Arrange for a translator

Arrange for a translator to assist with the interview if the exchange student is not comfortable speaking English or you do not understand the student’s native language. A teacher or another student who speaks both languages may be able to help.

2 Locate a comfortable place

Locate a comfortable place to conduct your interview. An empty classroom or a quiet spot outside is a good option. If your exchange student is willing, you could even conduct the interview with her host family. Make sure the student feels as comfortable as possible.

3 Spend some time

Spend some time chatting with the foreign exchange student before you begin the interview. Explain why you are interviewing him, such as for a newspaper article, a yearbook profile or a class project, and what you are hoping to learn from the interview. Build a rapport with the student so he is comfortable answering your questions.

4 Ask questions

Ask questions about the exchange student’s experiences in the U.S. Find out why she came to the U.S., what her favorite and least favorite aspects of life in this country are, and what she has learned about the U.S. Discuss some of the differences between her home country and the U.S., and what she will miss most about this country when she returns home.

5 Learn more

Learn more about the exchange student’s home country. Ask him about his home and school life there, what is similar and different, and what he misses most about home.

6 Have the student

Have the student share some funny or interesting anecdotes about her time in the U.S. Ask if there have been any funny language misunderstandings or things she found unusual or strange about the U.S.

7 Give the foreign exchange student

Give the foreign exchange student an opportunity to ask questions. Ask him to share anything else that he would like others to know about him.

  • If you have space in your article, or if you are making a presentation to a class, include a list of common words and phrases from the exchange student’s native language. Ask her to provide you with a few common slang terms from her country, and their translations, to share with other students.
  • Record your interview with a portable voice recorder or your cell phone. It will help you clarify your interview notes, especially when you are talking with someone who speaks a foreign language or speaks English with a thick foreign accent.

An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.