One of the hardest parts of preparing for an exchange is the packing. It seems impossible at first to fit your entire life into one checked bag and a carry-on. I promise, it’s possible, and can be much less stressful than it may seem.
My biggest suggestion is about clothes. Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about standing out as American in the crowd. There are enough tourists from America in France that it doesn’t at all look strange, plus I’ve found that most people are very accepting. What I recommend in terms of clothing is to pack the most basic, plain clothes that you own. Jeans, t-shirts, pullovers, etc.. This is really beneficial in the case that you do end up feeling uncomfortable in American clothes, because things like that are practically universal attire in first world countries. In addition, if your tastes happen to change during your stay, it won’t be too hard or expensive to change your style. For instance, adding or subtracting accessories or makeup can completely change a look without the need for buying tons of new clothes.
Another difficult decision for me was books. All of that paper ends up being quite heavy and taking up a lot of space, and buying new ones was out of the question as English books are much rarer and more expensive in France. I ended up bringing only my three favorites, and they were fairly small. I would recommend downloading a reading app for English books, and using the school or local library for French books. After a couple months, reading in the country’s language will be much easier anyway. Typically, there will be at least one or two books in the library that have the story in both French and English as well.
Everyone has different hobbies that must be brought over. My hobbies are primarily art oriented, which proved to be a problem with deciding which materials to bring and in what quantities. I actually had my parents send me my acrylic paints eventually, which is also always an option - to have your natural family send a small package of whatever is missing to you. Whether someone is more inclined towards sports, arts, music, yoga, competitive eating, or whatever - there will always be a solution. Find a local gym, rent an instrument, sign up for a yoga class. It’s also interesting to explore the other types of your hobby existing in the new country, be it art styles, fancy sports, different instruments or music genres, or new foods to try.
In terms of packing, I would say go for the necessities, and the things that probably won’t be found elsewhere. Keep the extras to a minimum and remember that new things can usually be bought.
I hope that this was helpful. If you’re planning on going on exchange, try not to stress too much about packing and try to notice the things in your life that you use on a daily basis and cannot live without. Happy travels!