My best decision
Everything seemed different from the moment I decided to go on an exchange year. At first, it sounded weird to go to a different country where I would live with a family I did not know before and study at a school I wasn’t familiar with. It took me a while to find out where I was going and it got me super excited, even though I had mixed feelings because I wasn’t sure what was waiting for me. Fun fact: when I first started looking for a good program to go on, the main place I had on my mind was Washington. I wasn’t able to choose where to go, but destiny took care of it – and that’s where I spent the best 11 months in my life.
Time was going by super fast and it was almost August when I found out where I was going and who was the family I was going to stay with. It felt like it was meant to be (or maybe it really was), and I had less than 3 weeks to get ready to leave, getting more excited each day. I remember how happy I got when I knew what a great place it was. And then, all of sudden, it was already time to say goodbye to my family and friends back home and head to a brand new place for me, where I would have to get used with the new family, new place, friends and everything else. But, at that point, I would not feel scared anymore. I would feel happy and ready to go on a new adventure.
Sao Paulo – Chicago – Portland. That was the route I was about to take to start a new life, different from what I was used to. And I was ready for it. My plane took off and after 10 hours I got to Chicago, where I was going to take another one that would lead me to my final destination. I felt like my heart was going to burst – of excitement and good hopes for the year that was about to start. The three final hours seemed like forever. But, finally, I was getting to PDX and my new family was waiting for me along with Kari, one of the coordinators that was there for me and all the other students all the time and helped to make our time the best possible, with a lovely banner. It was time to go to my new house and I was super excited.
My lovely host mom took me to get familiar with the new school on the first day and I thought it was awesome. The day went by super fast and, by the second one, I was already making friends and had joined the tennis team. Everyone was amazing. I already loved my family so much and they were the best from the second I met them. School took a while to start and, until it started, I had time to get to know my family and friends better and play a lot with them. We had a lot in common and it helped a lot. I got to know a lot about them on those days and be part of their day-to-day lives, when we would have dinner together and a lot of bonding time as well as participating on the same things they would – such as church and other activities.
Almost a month passed by and we had the first big orientation with people from all over the world. That’s when I got to meet my second coordinator, Reena, who also became one of my favorite people ever. We went rafting and got to know lots of people that day. I made a bunch of good friends who I still keep in touch and hope to meet again someday. The program was huge and it was amazing how they would take care of everything and everyone so well.
As the months passed by, the relationships would get better and I could feel like that was my place. I felt part of the family and made some great friends who I’ll never forget. I felt loved and also felt like that’s where I was supposed to be. Reena and Kari were always there to make sure we were having a good time and that things were going well, even though we would usually see each other once a month when they prepared amazing activities for the students and their families, when we could bond together and have a good time.
Being part of tennis was a great experience and, when the season was over, I decided to join theater. I was not familiar with it in my home country but I fell in love with it. I was part of the fall play as a tech and then as an actor on the Senior Showcase, as well on the Spring Musical, Annie. It made me feel included and helped to make a lot of friends. I believe participating on activities after school is one of the best opportunities an exchange student will have to make good friends and become a part of the group. Other than that, being part of the Youth group of the church was another great way to become even closer to my friends.
I got to have my first Halloween experience and, after that, the first Thanksgiving. And it made total sense since there was so much I was thankful for. Christmas time came and winter break was amazing: my family took me to California for the first time and we had an amazing time over there. That week was amazing. Two weeks after that, I got to go to Disneyland with ICES: another big dream came true. The trip was amazing and I got to become good friends with everyone in that trip. Reena and Kari were always there making sure we were having fun. Disneyland made us closer and I’m glad it did. Furthermore, I met so many amazing people: Jasmine, Becky and some of my good friends from other countries! What a great time.
The best experience of my life was on its half and I started feeling sad because it would soon be over. But I kept on trying to make the best out of it. My amazing and loved family was always there, being supportive and caring about me. I loved spending time as one of the members of the family and I can say that they really became my second family, who I can trust and who I love dearly. Distance makes things a little bit harder but I’m glad we can still keep in touch. I miss them dearly and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done and taught me. Also, for all the amazing places that I’ve been with them: Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle – to name a few. I’m so grateful that they were willing to open their house and lives to a new person and I can say that I’ll forever be grateful for that. It admires me how families like these are amazing for opening their homes and give someone else the opportunity to make a dream come true.
I decided to extend my program and stay one extra month in America, because I felt like that was where I should’ve been. I left one month after I graduated and was done with high school and it was probably one of the hardest months in my life, when I would have to say goodbye to my loved family and friends. I had some of the greatest times of my life that month. Saying goodbye was never my biggest strength but, after this year, it showed to be even harder. It was not easy to say goodbye to some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, such as everyone in my family and the amazing friends I made throughout the year. The worst part of the year was definitely having to leave. The good part of it is that you’ll be able to see your family who loves and has been waiting for you.
Something that gives me a little bit of comfort is knowing that we’ll always have each other and that we can still keep in touch and will be able to meet someday soon and make new memories but, until then, remember all the ones made and take care of them with love.
Being an exchange student is probably the best decision you’ll ever make, that will bring you a life-changing opportunity, make you grow and learn so much about yourself and about a new culture that will be incorporated at least a bit in your life and make memories that will last forever in your heart. It will, furthermore, give you a new vision of the world and help you learn how beautiful life can be with so many people and stories that will make it hard to leave. It will show you that you have more than a home.
As an exchange student, all I can say is thank you. Thank you to our families in our home countries for making it possible and giving us the chance, thank you to our new families who will always stay in our hearts for everything that you do for each and every single one of us and give us the best chance ever, thank you to our coordinators who became good friends and always make us feel like home, making sure that we are feeling happy and included, thank you to all the friends we’ve made and share memories that won’t ever be forgotten.
Life is beautiful. Live the fullest.
exchange student from Brazil
living with the Hardy family in Vancouver, Washington
Learn more about becoming an ICES Exchange Student and Study in the USA