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exchange student experiences in times of COVID 19

I think going through quarantine together made me know them even more.

By the time I had to leave I realized that If I was so heart broken It was because despite everything, my exchange year and the time I spent with my host family had been worth it and I wouldn't change it for anything. - Marta (ETC Exchange student)

Marta - ETC Exchange student from Spain

My experience drastically changed after being around 7 months in the U.S. After classes were cancelled I had to say goodbye to my two best friends who went home and I had to decide whether I wanted to do the same. Despite all the recommendations I decided to stay, we though it wouldn’t be safe to leave and, to be honest, I didn’t feel like I was prepared for my exchange to be over yet. The months after that were weird, I spent a lot of time in my room, bored and with nothing to do as the online classes didn’t take much time. At first, I feared I would regret the decision, now I look back and wished I had got out of my room more but, even with all these time, something as simple as the family dinners, movies, walks and bike rides made my days. My host sister was really busy with schoolwork, so I also spent a lot of time talking with my host parents, learning new things every day and opening with them more and more. We had already connected throughout the year, but I think going through quarantine together made me know them even more. It for sure made it harder to leave, but I think that I would have never been completely prepared to say goodbye anyway. By the time I had to leave I realized that If I was so heart broken It was because despite everything, my exchange year and the time I spent with my host family had been worth it and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

ETC Host family

Mia - ETC Exchange student from Germany

When I first came to the United States I realized that I’m really going to live there for about 10 months and in another environment too. I also realized that this was going to be a huge step for me, a step I could never forget. And why would I want to? This year has been amazing!!

I was so lucky to live with a family that fits me so well that by the end of the year they weren’t strangers, they were and they still are my family. I learned to love them that now they are a huge part of my life. I’m so happy they let me into their lifes and be a part of their amazing family. They supported me in every single thing, they took care of me, they provided for me, they took me on trips, they let me meet their family, but most importantly they loved me too.

Any student that is going to be, or is a part of their family is such a lucky student and can be excited about a wonderful exchange year.

But every student that is going can be very excited and should be! Because even though we all experience a different exchange, it’s going to be awesome if you make the best out of it! Say yes to opportunities you get like go to football or basketball games with friends, join a club or sport, hang out with friends,go to church, try a new hobby, show your host family how much you appreciate them, go to the school dances, or just enjoy the nature.

Those are all simple things that I have engraved in my heart. Those little moments are memories I don’t want to and never will forget.

I believe that I am the happiest teenage girl alive because I chose to be an exchange student. This was the best choice I’ve ever made!! I am so very grateful and thankful for everyone I met and everything that happened.

I’m especially thankful for my organizations because they got me to where I belonged. They helped me so much during this exchange and made every little piece an amazing experience.

Even during quarantine we did funny little zoom calls and played fun games or we even cooked together once a week.

But during this quarantine I got even closer to my family and I’m so very grateful to have been with them. We did puzzles, baked together, went on walks, runs and hikes, played games, and had so much fun together. We connected even more but sadly that made my goodbyes even harder.

But a goodbye doesn’t mean that I just leave, it means that you wish well until you can see them again!

Lur - ETC Exchange student from Spain

 

I’m Lur, since I was 10 years old I would dream to go to another country and learn their language and culture. When I was 14 my dream came true. This is my experience as an exchange student in New Mexico. It all started on the 3rd of August of 2019 when I realized that I had to do everything for myself. I just arrived to the US and I knew that it was going to be one of the greatest adventures I would ever have. I was so happy and excited that I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t unpack everything.

 

“Be like you are at home but do have new experiences you wouldn’t do at home” my mom told me. The day of the orientation came and I didn’t want to socialize with anyone but the people I knew, because that’s how I was. When our local coordinators told us all the rules and how everything was going to work they also told us that everything was going to be hard, as expected, but I thought it was going to be in a very different way. It was difficult for me to express myself to all my new friends about anything, to improve in a sport I knew nothing about, and more stuff I struggled a lot with until I tried to improve. I changed, after some time I was a person easy to be with, nice, fun, and crazy.

ETC Host Family
ETC Host Family

Tommy - ETC Exchange student from Italy

Choosing to do the exchange year was the best choice of my life. I could see the world from a completely different point of view. I arrived in a place where nobody knew me and, because of that, everybody wanted to know how I was. I can actually understand also a part of yourself that I didn’t know, because I was facing this whole experience with no past in that place. Doing the exchange it’s not only learning a new language but also trying to be out of the confort zone. Learning another culture is so important to open your mind and to understand where you belong, maybe after years you find out that you’re born to live in another country and not your native country and all this time you felt in the wrong place…

If somebody has the chance to do this experience that person must go, no worries about being far from home because another home is waiting for you.

Emilie - ETC Exchange student from Germany

When I first heard, that I am going to be placed with another exchange student I didn’t feel any particular way about it. I was excited as anyone would be about living with someone from another country. When I first met my host-sister, I realised how glad I actually was at the thought of … you know, not being alone. My parents turned out to be the coolest people ever, but still – in the very beginning she was someone I could turn to. We had so much to talk about and learned how much we (and our countries for that matter) had in common … but especially how different we were. At first we weren’t fully sure how to approach each other, just how strangers generally react. But because of the fact that we were just a room away from each other, ate together, shared a bathroom and shared the same concerns, anxieties- but specifically memories and expectations. Back then I couldn’t really realise how grateful I actually was, to have someone like me – a companion into my journey of the unknown. I felt special relieved when it came to the school. To be new *and* foreign is a whole struggle and at first you obviously don’t have any friends, people to walk the school with or sit with at lunch. Of course, that condition can drive some people more to find friends, because it feels more urgent…? But honestly, I was happy that I had her and it didn’t make me any lazier with finding friends either. We gave each other the space we needed. Of course my case is special in that way, that we then had to go into quarantine together. And I can honestly say, that I may have not stayed as long as I did if not for her. I never experienced how it felt as a single child and I actually didn’t want to, even though I thought I did. After a while, I felt a bond, a special connection that went deeper than just a regular friendship. Of course, we fought and we had our differences … but that just made it feel more like she was my actual sister. I knew I could always rely on her and she was my ally , even if we didn’t fit together perfectly. But I think that was the beauty in such a double-placement. You get thrown into a household with a random person out of another country, who has their own way of talking, thinking and seeing things. Two cultures, crashing together and living, sharing and experiencing … growing together like never before. And suddenly you have a new sister, not by blood but general understanding, affection and slow development.

It was absolutely great and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Antoinette - ETC Host mom

Having an ETC student means you’re bonded for life. If a pandemic occurs, you’re on the ready. You make them forget – their fragile lives of seventeen years old – and you forget too, wherever  you live, wherever you are hosting them. You show them the best world you know how. Fried potatoes, and bacon, and eggs, and tortillas, and chile… every morning. Cleaning up after breakfast only gives way to lunch. Grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, skewers with chicken or beef, pasta, crockpots… whatever you know how. Lunch clean-up gives way to dinner. Setting table with porcelain and stemware and china. Back on the grill or steamed or broiled or pan-fried. Whatever is available at the grocer where you are standing in line, 6 ft apart, with your face mask. What’s available to feast upon for my family?

An exchange student means giving them the world and giving you the world and forgetting the chaos and uncertainty of the doom and gloom. Building puzzles and playing boardgames. Weeks @ a time with ‘Twighligt’ series, or ‘Harry Potter’, or ‘Indiana  Jones’ or ‘That ‘70s Show’. Popcorn and Bundt cakes and snowcones and waiting. Waiting to hear the coronavirus count. Waiting to hear what’s going on in your hometown and theirs. Facetime and Skype calls to your family and theirs to see what’s wreaking havoc from the chaos. Ensuring their biological family that they’re ‘ok’ with their host family. Revelry in your ability to continue to go outdoors… hiking, bathing in rivers, riding bicycles, steaming in natural spas, and fishing, and grass, and running out the front door!  while everyone at home overseas is in a flat quarantined beyond your imagination. Showing them that life is a force stronger than any peril and that we will all get through this!!!

Hosting an exchange student means that you cut yourself deep, raw, to the center of your existence. And you let them permeate that void. They become a part of you. They make you stronger than you ever thought you could be. And you love them with all your heart. And you wish they could ever be a part of your life. But you know that you are a surrogate and that they have a life-force waiting for them at home, where they need to be, in the long run. You will be forever enriched by their company. By their glomming onto you. You will allow your own blood family to establish their own roots and think about them daily, in the end, letting them go. They will bind our continents. And our patriotism. And forever more, you will call them family.

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