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Benefits of student exchange

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Student exchange - where kids live and study overseas - is becoming more popular. We have a school-age student staying and we are finding it a great way to learn about another country and culture.

My daughter will stay with her family later in the year. It will test her independence. She is enjoying the new friendship and looking forward to making new friends at her overseas school.

If it all works out, going on an exchange can be a rewarding experience, boosting kids' confidence and developing their judgement skills. And it can fast-track learning a foreign language.

But it isn't cheap. Australia is a long way from popular destinations such as Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and South America, making airfares a big cost. If the school organises a reciprocal exchange, the main cost is the airfare.

You provide food, accommodation and the day-to-day costs for the student who comes here. In return, the host family provides food and, depending on the family's generosity, organises trips and sightseeing. Your child will need money for incidentals such as transport to and from school, school lunches and some entertainment.

As well as school-organised exchanges, plenty of external companies offer short-term and one-year exchanges. The costs are considerably higher but this is partly offset by not having to host a child yourself.

You can expect to pay $7350 for three months in France with a group called EF. This covers flights, a host family, visas, staff to assist you and school costs. One year in Costa Rica organised by EF costs $9950. Not all host families may work out - the benefit of an organised group is that your child can be moved to another family.

Exchanges in a gap year after school are popular. Your kids are more mature, and capable too. There are some terrific programs around the world but they are expensive.

A friend of mine's daughter is spending four months in Peru, working in a local school and living with a family. She is with a group of Australian students and there is a co-ordinator on the ground that looks after the group.

This came in handy when she ended up in hospital with food poisoning. The parents were notified immediately and she was well looked after.

One of the advantages with an end-of-school exchange is that you can encourage your kids to save up over high school to meet part or all of the cost.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
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