My 15 year-old brother wants to do a short exchange this summer. That's what I did when I was his age, and I think I have the experience-given authority to tip him on a few subjects. So, brother dear, read closely:
1- Just do it
Yes it's scary, but don't think much. One day you apply, one day you sign a contract, another day you buy the flight tickets, and then one other very distant day you simply walk into the plane. It's not Mordor. As much as you can command your arms to lift up right now, when the day comes you'll command your legs to keep walking and that's what they'll do. As simple as that. And the only moment you'll allow yourself to realize how far from home you are is when you're finally left alone in room they designated for you. This room is tricky. Don't delay there too long. Go out and talk to people. Just do it.
2- Everybody is just as scared as you
Look for the ones that have arrived with you. They also are completely lost. Some will be more talkative, but don't be intimidated by them. Deep down, the ground beneath their feet is just as unsure. Use this to your favor. You're not as awkward as I am, and therefore you'll probably stick pretty well to some nice group of people, but just in case you're taken by a wave of shyness, remember this: the first day is a golden opportunity. Talk to everyone. After that, people will start picking who they want to be with and if you don't have anyone, you'll feel like you've missed something and then suddenly everyone else is in the high ground and you're Anakin. Which is stupid because only one day has passed. Just come up to people, say hi, and sit on a table with strangers. Nobody knows who you are and therefore you can be anyone you choose. Choose not to be shy, and to be kind to everyone.
3- Talk to everyone vs stick to a group
Everything happens so quickly. Decide what do you want: to meet as many people as you can or to make good friends? It's just a few weeks. Maybe you'll have the social skills to balance both, but I hadn't. If you see that the people you were with on the first day have begun to spread and are no longer a group, but two or three, beware. If you try to be a part of all of them, you might end up not belonging to any. See which one is more concerned about you, which one will invite you to the programs, the one where the conversations flows best - and stick to it. There's no such thing as the "cool" group; there's only the group where people will actually shut up and listen to what you have to say. But if there's someone in the other groups you do truly like, keep talking to them, even if it's just a warm "hi" across the hall (You're now laughing because you know I don't know how to give a warm "hi". Yes, the struggle is real). These people might end up coming to your group, and if they don't, you can always have random one-to-one conversations with them. The bonds are made so fast that it's terribly easy to break them, but the truth is, it's your choice. Don't ever think people don't want to talk to you; it's always been my hugest mistake, and if you can learn anything from your big sister, learn that.
4- Enjoy the freedom (wisely)
You're in your room, classes are over. It might take a while to strike you, but the thing is, you can do now whatever you want. Whatever. You. Want. When you go to the city, you do your own program. There's something magical about public transportation and being able to walk alone in the streets. That's why I so often preferred to go solo. You know me, you know I used my freedom to spend as much time as I wanted in the bookstores. Well, I know you, and I know you'll enjoy looking for the restaurant with the best lasagna and making your day as sporty as a day can be. You're hungry? Buy an ice cream. You're tired? Sit down and enjoy the world around you. There's no one there to judge you if you decide to spend your afternoon in a museum, in a basketball shop, or feeding the birds in a park (unless it's forbidden - beware the signs). It'll be wonderful, the single aspect you'll miss the most. And of course, I don't think I need to remind you, but freedom also means being responsible. You know, spending money wisely (if it's a book you've been looking for a long time, the rule doesn't apply), not drinking and stuff. I know you'll be fine in this aspect. Enjoy.
5- If you miss home, just cry one night and then get over it
There'll be a night, probably the first one, when you'll be terrified by everything that's between you and your family. If you need to cry, cry, but know there's no reason for it. It'll only prevent you from having all the fun you could be having. Live each day as it is and when you see, you'll already be packing. The first week is extremely slow, the other ones are unbelievably fast. If you keep wishing you were back home, you're doing something wrong. Get over the feeling. The only medicine is to go outside, talk to people and fill your day with as many activities as you possibly can. And when you come back tired to your room, we'll Skype you and there'll be comfort, but you'll also be glad your family isn't there with you. These two weeks are yours, the time to find out who you are when no one around you has any expectations of how you should behave. It's liberating. Coming back home is a certainty, so don't worry about it. As cheesy as it's to say, with you it's a reference, so Carpe diem.