Can Homeschoolers Study Abroad As Foreign Exchange Students?


Our daughter’s (2nd) German host family welcomed her with home-made US and German flag streamers and a personalized door sign.

As parents consider homeschooling their school-aged child, many questions pop into mind. They wonder about socialization; academic demands; local restrictions and so on. It’s only later that considerations turn to studying abroad options and college. Can homeschoolers study abroad and experience life as a foreign exchange student, too?

Yes, homeschoolers can study abroad as foreign exchange students, but may need to be flexible and creative in the application process. Study abroad programs are tailored to traditional schools, so homeschoolers must be focused to show that their unique background can be an asset for studying abroad.

As a former public school teacher and a mom of four, I know what is truly required for a quality education. The good news is that with preparation, organization, and ‘a will’, homeschooling is an excellent choice for families; and homeschooled kids can participate in almost all ‘schooling’ extras such as studying abroad. Our homeschooled daughter spent her ‘senior year’ studying abroad in Europe. I’m happy to share some insights with you.

Requirements for Homeschoolers Studying Abroad

More and more US families consider homeschooling as a viable and acceptable alternative for their child’s education for religious and non-religious reasons.

At first glance, it may seem daunting to think about your homeschooler studying abroad. After all, homeschooling itself can be overwhelming for many families, especially those just beginning or those with multiple kids to educate.

Newly homeschooled families are not only responsible for demonstrating that their child is meeting grade-level expectations set by their local school district, but also must know and follow the varying regulations for home schools.

I know this can be tricky when getting started. As such, I have addressed several homeschooling issues in other articles such as how to create free materials for Christian-focused homeschools and homeschooling special needs children.

For now, let’s focus on the issue of homeschoolers studying abroad. What are some special considerations when homeschoolers want to participate in a foreign exchange program? And should homeschoolers even participate in study abroad/foreign exchange education?

How is studying abroad different for homeschoolers?

Study abroad programs all have their individual applications and requirements for their selection process. However, I know firsthand from our experience that there are some basic elements that are found across the board.

Like most families in similar situations, when our daughter expressed interest in studying abroad, we had a lot to consider. However, this is especially true for homeschooling families.

Some of our concerns we’ll address in a later section as they are related to our homeschool and parenting philosophy. However, other concerns were more logistic for homeschoolers and that is what we’ll look at here.

We wondered what would this mean for a homeschooled student?

The Application Process:

Step 1 One of the first things on the application for foreign exchange or study abroad asks about your child’s grade level and his or her academic record.

All homeschooled kids are ‘assigned’ a grade level just like traditionally schooled kids. This is practical for record-keeping and most all US school districts require documentation to show this.

As well, students have to meet academic expectations in the form of testing and ‘grade’ achievement. Even if your home school is not focused on grades like As and Bs or percentages, you’ll still have to use these for school records, yearly at minimum.

Therefore, it seems homeschoolers are able to fulfill those initial application questions. However, proving it can be another thing altogether.

It is possible to create your own transcript as a ‘home school’, particularly now a days with the advancement and prevalence of technology at our fingertips. Sites such as Pinterest or homeschool association blogs will even have useful examples of what to include.

But homeschools don’t have district-level, ‘official looking’ transcripts to show courses of study and accompanying grade point average (gpa) for their students. And because many outside of homeschools are still unfamiliar with them, there is a slight risk of the homeschool transcript getting rejected initially. But don’t give up!

It is also possible to utilize a paid, transcript service. This can often give a more professional look to the transcript. Nonetheless, these forms will still have ‘homeschool’ on them somewhere, challenging the ‘official’ status upon closer inspection.

Again, some homeschoolers are ready to give up at this point, thinking it just won’t work for them, but I urge you, don’t let this be your reason for stopping!

A homeschool transcript is acceptable for college admission; thus, it is also acceptable for study abroad applications.

If it makes you feel better, you can include a statement of explanation to accompany the transcript. However, I don’t think that’s necessary, at least it didn’t prove to be so in our case. Instead I used an online homeschool transcript service to issue a transcript, which I was able to download and print for my daughter’s application. This is more than fine to do.

Tip 1: Make sure you spell all words correctly on the transcript and proofread it carefully for typos. Also, include any grade-level end of year or standardized testing data your child has done. This makes the form look professional.

Step 2 Another thing the application process for most foreign exchange programs requires is teacher recommendations. Obviously, this can be challenging for homeschooled students who mostly rely on parents for teachers. A parent recommendation letter is just not going to work under most circumstances, so homeschoolers have to think out of the box!

If you haven’t given up yet, then this might seem like the time to do so. Don’t! With some creative thinking, your child can get his or her teacher recommendations!

Has your child taken any extracurricular classes? If so, this is a good place to start when looking for teacher recommendation letters.

Here are some ideas for finding ‘teachers’:

  • music lessons teacher
  • art (or arts & crafts) teacher
  • Your CCD teacher (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is a religious education program of the Roman Catholic Church designed for children. )
  • sports coach

Many homeschoolers do co-op groups or home school group associations where they meet regularly. Sometimes homeschool parents trade instruction responsibility according to their individual skills. Like if one parent speaks another language, she may teach the co-op group her language skill while another teacher who is skilled in sewing might teach the group quilt-making.

If you belong to a group such as this, another parent could write your child’s teacher recommendation letter.

By thinking creatively, it won’t be as challenging to complete either of these requirements for the application.

The Homeschool to Public School Transition:

It might seem ironic to think about this, but it’s something that homeschoolers have to realize. When they participate in a study abroad foreign exchange experience, they are forgoing homeschooling. It is a change literally and figuratively.

Once in a study abroad program, the homeschooler will no longer be at home for his or her education. Therefore, he’s no longer ‘home schooled.’ We know as homeschoolers that we can simply add this to their total ‘homeschooling’ records, but it still is ‘public schooling’.

In addition to this, once he or she is in their host country, they will be enrolled in a public or private school. They won’t be schooling at the host family’s home either.

When our daughter temporarily moved to Germany for a year for her study abroad program, she had the choice of attending a neighborhood Catholic school or she could attend a public, non-religious school that would require transportation. Germany has well-known reliable public transportation so that wasn’t a concern. However she chose, she would no longer be a homeschooler in this foreign exchange process.

Tip 2: Continue to document as a homeschooler statewide. This means you should continue recordkeeping and following local school district requirements. It provides your child with flexibility so that he or she won’t have to repeat their grade level in the US once their foreign exchange experience has concluded and can stay on track for graduation. Many actual public school children do have to repeat the grade level.

Thus, it’s a significant moment for homeschoolers to choose to do study abroad, even more so than for a regularly schooled student, because he or she is electing to no longer home school.

Are some countries better for homeschoolers than others for foreign exchange education?

German public schools were welcoming for our daughter and other participants of the CBYX study abroad program, though students faced issues returning to US public schools afterwards.

As far as which countries are better for homeschoolers participating in study abroad programs, it’s all the same in that homeschoolers will attend school in their local host country. Homeschooling will not be an option in study abroad. As such, the study abroad or foreign exchange program will take charge in enrolling your child in school.

However, like any student faces embarking on a foreign exchange experience, some countries will be a better fit than others for homeschoolers. Some countries like England and Austria permit their citizens to homeschool so there might be less of a stigma regarding homeschooling there, than say, a homeschooler might encounter in Germany or Sweden where it is banned.

Tip 3: Even though your child will learn the language of his host country through immersion, it is a good idea to get a start on language learning prior to the start of the program.

Homeschoolers would benefit (like all schoolers) in targeting a country for studying abroad based on a bit of research. It probably won’t be a good experience if your homeschooler selects his study abroad choice by closing his eyes and pointing randomly on a globe. He should research areas and make a conscious choice.

What about graduation?

Homeschoolers are already thinking out-of-the-box when it comes to graduation. Besides the need to be fully aware of credit requirements and how to document proof of achieving them, parents and their homeschoolers will often want to celebrate with ‘pomp and circumstance.’

Side Note: Do you know why Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance is played as a student marching tune for all US graduations?

Some homeschoolers attend a celebration march with a home school association or co-op group; while others simply hold a small family event in their backyard. And even others may just skip pomp altogether. Either way, all homeschoolers have an end-date in mind when it comes to their high school education and this is marked by a graduation date.

We’ll address this in the ‘drawbacks’ section below, but can say here that depending on the homeschoolers local school district in the US, his or her graduation may be affected from participation in studying abroad. Homeschoolers won’t participate in official graduation abroad unless stringent records are fulfilled when first enrolled in their host school. Therefore, it’s safe to say it is extremely rare indeed.

Our daughter spent her senior year in Germany, but didn’t graduate from a German gymnasium/high school. Instead it was marked as school attendance for our records (and the German compulsory school requirement) but her graduation was upon arrival back here in the states.

So, yes, your child will still graduate but it won’t be abroad.

High School Foreign Exchange Programs for Homeschoolers

There are many options for studying abroad available to high school-aged homeschoolers, from paid options to student exchange to free programs awarded as a scholarship. In today’s technological world where traveling is much more accessible and convenient, it’s easier than ever for students.

Options also vary on the amount of time spent abroad, as well as when to start and end the program. Some programs are for full or partial summer; others are for smaller time-frames over extended breaks such as spring or winter holidays. Some study abroad programs last full school terms or calendar years.

Homeschools in general are better aligned for study abroad than traditional schools because homeschools are more flexible; they can adjust or tweak their calendar much easier.

Let’s look a little closer at paid and scholarship study abroad programs individually; and how they work and might not work well for homeschoolers.

Paid Programs

Paid programs are in some ways the easiest, because they don’t have long lists of qualifying measures in order for your homeschooler to participate. Because parents are paying a fee, it is easier for their children to be admitted into the program and it provides ultimate flexibility in choice of country for where your child will study.

In these cases, parents often pay for travel, lodging (such as dormitory living), and meal plans. It’s almost like paying for a private school only abroad in another country. However, the focus is less on education and academics, and more on cultural experience and language learning.

Other paid programs might be partial-pay. For example, parents might pay for travel expense, public transportation, and a monthly food stipend, but their child’s housing will be cost-free with vetted host families. Host families often elect to do this for a cultural experience for their family; as a way of ‘giving back’; or in exchange by swapping their child so he or she can ‘study abroad’ in the United States for the child they’re taking in. In this situation, the US family acts as a host family, too.

Here are a few pay programs for homeschoolers/high schoolers to study abroad:

  • EF (Education First)-First started in Sweden but is open to all and touts a program spanning 114 countries.
  • Greenheart Travel– Has scholarship assistance opportunities for first-time travelers.
  • Putney Student Travel– Has focused groups based on hobbies and interests related to targeted country.

Paid programs work well for homeschoolers because they offer the best in flexibility and choice. Since your dollar is the primary ‘acceptance factor’ you can most likely find a program that works with your homeschool interests better than scholarship options. With some research, you are even likely to find programs with religious connections if that’s a motivating feature for you.

Scholarship Programs like CBYX

Our daughter, who was homeschooled, received the Congress-Bundestag scholarship to study abroad in Germany during her ‘senior year’.

What might be surprising to homeschool families is the opportunities for free study abroad. When our daughter became interested in foreign exchange opportunities, we were wary of the cost. However, it was quite pleasant when we learned of some low-cost to completely free options.

One of the best programs is the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program, which awards a completely free opportunity to 100-200 US students yearly to study in Germany. It’s divided by US regions so each region can have up to 50 recipients (north, south, east, west).

If 50 students in a region don’t qualify, then less than 50 will go from that region and they do not add more from another region. CBYX doesn’t lower their standards; rather, they only accept students they deem qualified for a successful experience.

To Apply/Qualify: Students must complete a lengthy application. If they make the first cut based on the application and student essay, then there is a rigorous multi-interview process that takes place over a full weekend (without parents). From there, they’ll make their determination of up to 50 per region.

Tip 4: When applying to study abroad scholarships, don’t wait until the last minute. Because your application requires letters of recommendation or references from others, you’ll want to give them plenty of time to do their part. We’ve found that people aren’t quite as interested (and motivated) in the application process as you and your child are.

CBYX provides students an orientation at the US capital city of Washington, DC prior to their group travel to a weeks long German language camp. After the camp initiation into German language and culture, students are placed with host families, where they’ll go to high school and live like a German teenager.

Parents and families are discouraged from visiting in person with their child for the extent of the program, but may communicate via technology after the DC orientation. If you’re wondering about the ‘exchange,’ yes, just as many German high schoolers are awarded a scholarship to study abroad in the US. However, recipients aren’t swapping homes. Host families are not connected to students in that regard.

CBYX isn’t the only fully-funded scholarship program. Here are a few others you can check out:

  • NSLI for Youth– This is the National Security Language Initiative for Youth and is fully funded to promote overseas critical language learning in specific areas like Turkey, India, and China.
  • YES-Abroad– Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study awards scholarships for high schoolers to study in areas of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
  • Youth Ambassadors– This program sponsored by U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has a South and Central America focus.

As stated before, paid programs are easier to tailor for homeschoolers because you ‘get what you pay for.’ However, many homeschoolers, like our daughter, can be successful in scholarship options even if they aren’t quite as malleable.

Pros and Cons of Foreign Exchange Studies

Many students who’ve experienced foreign exchange have been able to use that for networking and other life experiences, often including more traveling.

There is certainly a thrilling aspect to studying abroad that catches the eye of homeschoolers. However, both pros and cons exist for homeschoolers looking to do foreign exchange/study abroad. Read on to learn the up close version of our daughter’s experience as a CBYX scholarship recipient to Germany.

Benefits for Homeschoolers

Our homeschooled daughter was featured in a local German newspaper about her study abroad experience there.

I have to say that overall our daughter’s study abroad experience has been beneficial and helpful in her life after the program. As a homeschooler, she definitely had some hurdles to overcome in order to prove to others that she was qualified, smart, prepared, and ready…for part-time working, for college, for relationships, and so on.

Participation in a foreign exchange year really helped concretely to show others that homeschooling ‘worked.’

Some of the ways studying abroad benefited my daughter is widening her school experience; enhancing her college applications and readiness; and dispelling certain homeschool misconceptions like not being socialized.

The World is Your Homeschool

One of the biggest drawbacks for homeschooling is that your child is limited by his location; he (or she) is only learning one set of values and perspectives. However, permitting your homeschooler to participate in a study abroad/foreign exchange program is to take a temporary leave of homeschooling and not only open up your child’s education to a different school setting but to do it in a different culture.

Homeschoolers benefit from a wide-range of teachers and other students, but school doesn’t stop at the school door. No, it continues at the market, on the train, at the host family’s house, and more! Your child will learn much more than academics when studying abroad. He or she is studying ‘everything’ and will most likely come away with a new language to boot!

Perks Up College Applications

A study abroad experience is great for your child’s college application! It shows college and university admittance teams that your child has done something remarkable (especially if it’s coupled with a scholarship).

Being able to study abroad proves that your child is capable of college living. Often college is the first time a child has been away from parents and the safety net of home, which results in too much partying or even depression.

So if your child has already been away from parents/home through a study abroad/foreign exchange experience, it is highly likely that he or she will be able to handle college. They have jumped that hurdle already and colleges and university teams have more confidence in them.

There are other ways a study abroad/foreign exchange experience helps the college resume. It shows your child is…

  • Open-minded
  • Appreciates other cultures
  • Thinks globally
  • Can take necessary risks
  • Able to navigate unfamiliar areas
  • Can collaborate
  • And much more!

It is no exaggeration to say CBYX played a prominent role in our daughter receiving a full-ride scholarship at a well-renowned US university. In fact, while she was in Germany, she qualified as a semi-finalist for the ‘President’s Scholarship’ in which she’d need to attend a weekend event back in the US to interview for the finalist position.

To prove just how much the university respected her qualifications, LSU paid for our daughter to fly from Germany to Baton Rouge to participate, and she hadn’t even won yet! Our daughter was (is) very special, but really the study abroad is what set her apart from other ‘special’ applicants.

Needless to say, she won the scholarship which paid for four full years of tuition, books, room, and board, with money left over! Another reason we’re sure her study abroad set her apart is that she was known as ‘the German girl’ throughout the weekend and in a group of hundreds, it pays to be known!

Dispels Homeschool ‘Socialization Myth’

Homeschooled children suffer the curse of being pre-judged as awkward and socially inept. This has been perpetuated in television and film so much it’s become a stereotype. However, it’s simply not an accurate representation, and I speak from public school teacher experience, too.

Perhaps in the pre-internet days, it was more difficult for homeschool families to network with each other, and those outside of homeschooling. Perhaps they were limited to their home’s four walls. But that’s not the case in modern society.

Today, kids can talk to others across the globe and aren’t hindered by their location just because they’re homeschooled. Homeschoolers participate in sports leagues, clubs, and other hobbies. Homeschoolers have part-time jobs, and do just fine. In fact, through social media and other means of technology, it’s become well-known that some of our smartest and brightest have been homeschooled.

Yet, the social myth continues to creep up now and then. That’s when a study abroad experience comes in handy! It shows that homeschoolers are not only capable of handling their local public school, had they so chosen it, but can actually handle ‘the world’.

A study abroad experience shows that homeschoolers can thrive among people culturally alike and unlike!

For these reasons and more, homeschoolers can benefit from participating in studying abroad or a foreign exchange program. However, there are drawbacks too, because nothing is perfect. Let’s consider a few in the next section.

Drawbacks for Homeschoolers Abroad

Homeschoolers do well in most any situation. They are often articulate and more mature than their peers. Many in fact are quite independent, having taken a major role in their education and extracurriculars without social pressure or restrictions.

Nevertheless, there are some negatives to studying abroad especially for homeschoolers that families should address before signing on for their child to participate. Let’s look a bit at this in more detail.

Contradicts Homeschool Philosophy

Homeschool families are very much aware of their reasons for homeschooling. Homeschooling is almost never done lightly because there is so much involved. Yet, to do a study abroad, the homeschooler is putting that aside. In essence, the homeschool takes a backseat to regular, traditional education, which often contradicts the values of the homeschooling family.

When a homeschooler starts study abroad, there will be issues that had been avoided pop up. Now peer pressure is more prevalent. As well, freedom of what to study is no longer available. The homeschooler has lost flexibility of the school calendar and is time-constrained to whatever is already established.

Not to mention there is a loss of family connection that is a huge part of the homeschool life.

Though much is to gain from studying abroad for your homeschooler, it comes at a high cost-that’s not payable with money.

Problems Are A World-Away

Another big hurdle for homeschool families to consider is that problems are a ‘world away.’ Homeschool families are by nature close and supportive. When there is a problem, parents are there to help their child. We’ve often said to our children that ‘no one cares more about how you do and your future than us.’ And that really is at the heart of homeschooling. Parents care so much that they added to their role of parent…’teacher.’

But with studying abroad, parents can’t be there for their children like they have in the past. Even with host family support, children are really on their own to handle adult-like issues. This would be difficult for most kids if they just started living with strangers down the street, but this is not ‘down the street.’ This is across the vast ocean in most cases!

And we have personal experience with this, too!

Our daughter had typical struggles the first week or two getting acclimated to her new surroundings…living in a new place and culture. But problems escalated quickly with her host family.

She was subjected to a very anxiety-ridden environment. She was belittling and insulted by the host mom. The parents frequently argued and yelled at each other, their children, and her.

The children, though younger than she, stayed out all night and basically ran wild. This would be difficult for any teen, but especially to one who’d come from a very stable and calm home. She wasn’t just experiencing culture shock; she was experiencing an unstable home. And that was too much to accept!

We gave her suggestions and tips to try to get along. She met with the CBYX mediator alone as well as with the family. We wrote a letter to the family to try to intervene. Nothing worked and the mediator recommended a new placement. And we agreed!

She was fortunate to have a much better experience with the second host family and they continue to be a part of her life years later. However, it was quite difficult and the memories mar her experience when taken altogether.

This is something serious for homeschool families to realize and we hope you can learn from what Lexi had to deal with.

Graduation ‘Gap Year’

One very big issue for any American high schooler considering foreign exchange or study abroad programs is how it may affect their graduation date. This can also be a concern for homeschoolers if they don’t prepare in advance.

Most study abroad programs aren’t school-focused. In a theoretical sense that’s perfectly fine. After all we understand the appeal for abroad is to be culturally immersed, not to further your education. Yet, this complicates credit counts for high schoolers ready to graduate.

Essentially most US schools will count the year abroad as fulfilling school compulsory requirements; your child is not truant because he or she is attending school.

However, to graduate from US public schools, students need ‘x’ number of credits in science, English, mathematics, and history, not to mention extracurricular ‘fine arts’ classes like art, physical education, and health. Whether American students go to school in Germany, Japan, or India, more than likely their study abroad program won’t fulfill these US school requirements. American high school students abroad will shadow native students in their courses, but won’t be expected to complete rigorous course assignments and assessments.

All of this is to say, your child won’t have enough credits to graduate upon returning to the states without make-up time.

If you plan ahead, it is possible to thwart this problem. Remember my tip #2?

If you continue to document your child’s homeschooling even though he or she is abroad, you can count that year towards graduation. In our case, I continued to consider Lexi homeschooled. It was her senior year and we wanted her to be ready for college when she returned. Even though she was in Germany, she completed college applications and even interviewed for admission and university scholarships.

I submitted all homeschool records required by our local school district, which provided her courses of study and attendance. Lexi took math, foreign language, kickboxing, and other courses all while in Germany. Some of these were in German, but as far as homeschool records, it qualified.

In fact, homeschooling made it much easier for her abroad year ‘to count’ because there is a lot of flexibility in what’s required and freedom in what we as her curriculum designer can do. This isn’t the case with traditional schooling.

Many of her peers in the same program had to repeat that year when they returned in order to make up the lost credits. Those who didn’t repeat made up the credits in other ways, but it had to be done. For example, one girl planned ahead and took courses over the summer prior to studying abroad and others were able to double up during the school year and take twice as much math, science, English etc in order to fill in the gaps.

It doesn’t mean studying abroad isn’t worth it. Most kids are so excited by the opportunity that they don’t grumble too much about the extra work before or after to fulfill the course credits but it’s something to think about, definitely, because it will affect graduation and life after graduation, like the college years.

Note: This doesn’t usually pose a problem for those in shorter term programs such as programs over the summer or during school breaks/holidays. So this could be a reason for selecting one of these options.

Homeschooler Study Abroad/Foreign Exchange Students Take Away

So here we are, at the ‘take away’ of an article asking ‘Can Homeschoolers Study Abroad As Foreign Exchange Students?’ What I hope you remember first and foremost is, yes, homeschoolers certainly can study abroad as foreign exchange students!

But there are other things that are attached in order for this to work out well:

  • Homeschoolers need good records of their homeschool experience to make the study abroad application smooth.
  • Homeschoolers will need to be creative to find teacher recommendations and prove course and grade-level completion.
  • There are many paid and scholarship options homeschoolers can utilize for studying abroad.
  • Studying abroad/foreign exchange experiences have both benefits and drawbacks for homeschoolers.
  • High school graduation can be affected without proper planning and foresight.

Studying abroad or participating in foreign exchange can be a wonderful experience for homeschooled students but families need to recognize that the cost goes beyond money. Homeschoolers should approach with eyes wide open!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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