Aurelia, a high school student in Michigan, caught the travel bug at a young age. When she was six years old, a family friend went on exchange and Aurelia knew right then that she wanted to do the same someday. She started studying Spanish in 8th grade and when a student exchange representative came to her high school, she decided to take the plunge and apply to Aspect Foundation’s study abroad program in Ecuador. “Ecuador is such an interesting mix of indigenous and Spanish culture,” Aurelia says. “I wanted to go to South America to experience a culture that was completely different from everything I knew at home.”
Studying abroad as a high school student is a big decision for any family, and one that can often cause some trepidation for parents. Aurelia knew that studying abroad was the right choice for her, and began talking to her parents about the idea early on. They were initially worried about how her grades and school credits might be affected, and were understandably a little nervous about sending their daughter to live with a strange family halfway around the world. Aurelia did some careful planning with her US guidance counselor to ensure she had all the credits necessary to graduate on time, and once she arrived in Ecuador, she was able to have her new host parents and her parents in Michigan video chat as she translated. These conversations with her host family went a long way to reassure her natural parents, and they quickly grew to love Aurelia’s exchange experience as well.
Aurelia was welcomed into her large Ecuadorian host family in Cotacachi, who made her feel at home right away. Early on in her exchange, she spent a perfect day with her entire extended host family and took this picture, which you may recognize from Aspect Foundation’s Programs Abroad page.
“The day that this picture was taken was one of the best days of my life,” Aurelia says. “We spent the day on my host grandmother’s property in the rural highlands. All of the older cousins played soccer with the younger kids, the adults cooked, we went on a beautiful hike to see the lake, we picked berries, and I learned all about the family’s history. We all ate together, as breaking bread together is one of the most important aspects of their culture. This was when I really began to feel like part of the family.”
Attending a local high school was another life-changing part of Aurelia’s exchange experience. Though she had several years of Spanish experience before she went on her exchange, the Spanish that was spoken in her Ecuadorian classroom was very different than the Spanish she knew, and she felt tired and frustrated at first. After about a month, however, she found she was able to understand quite clearly, and the students and teachers were very welcoming and happy to have her there. Though the school system was different than what she had been used to, she felt like she learned a lot and made wonderful friends in her class with whom she still keeps in touch.
Living with a caring host family, attending a local high school, and having amazing experiences on the coast and in the Galapagos Islands, Aurelia returned home with more confidence, maturity, and a new outlook on life. “I did so much growing up while I was there.” she says. “I recognize the areas I need to work on and improve now, and I am more independent. While I was there, the little things I accomplished were the most satisfying – even figuring out how to buy my own bus ticket, for instance! I feel like I am more confident now because I know I can take on any challenge.”
As for college and other future plans? Aurelia knows that as she applies to colleges, she can’t separate her exchange experience from the rest of her life. “My life in Ecuador is a part of me now. My experience completely changed me and I can’t imagine it not playing a role in my college admissions.” Though she isn’t sure what she’d like to major in yet – she is insatiably curious and is interested in neuroscience, psychology, literature, and foreign languages – she knows she will have a career that will allow her to travel.
When asked what she would say to other American students considering their own study abroad adventure, Aurelia is emphatic: “Everyone who is thinking about doing this should do it. Even if you have just the tiniest seed of the idea, water that seed and let it grow into a beautiful flower and just do it! It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, for sure. My personal development, future plans, my college experience…everything has changed.”
Are you ready for your own study abroad adventure? Learn more about how you can spend a summer, semester, or academic year abroad on our Programs Abroad page. Contact Brianne Sherman at (800) 879-6884 to learn more about how high school study abroad can change your life.