“Last week was Fiesta de Primivera at my high school. Each day was packed with food, dancing, concerts, games, picnics, campfires, and not enough sleep. My class were champions over all of the competitions! I was thinking maybe the school would give us a trophy for this accomplishment. Instead, we were handed a bag of meat. Typical.
Everyday is new. Everyday I learn a few more words. Everyday I learn more about myself…Things are going great!”
– Salena from Iowa in Argentina
Interested in studying abroad but not sure what to expect? Hear from Salena! She is currently studying abroad in Argentina for a semester and she answers 12 FAQs about being a high school exchange student.
1. Where are you?
I am in La Calera, Córdoba, Argentina.
2. Who’s in your host family?
My host parents are Diego and Fabi, and I have three host siblings, Bruno (19), Jenaro (11), and Sabrina (16).
3. What is it like living with a host family?
I love living with my host family. My host sister is my best friend here, and we can do everything together. They do not speak any English, which has forced me to learn Spanish faster. I have always wanted a little brother, and now I have one. They are so interested in my culture, even letting me cook American pizza for them.
I have also met aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, cats, and dogs. Everyone welcomed me, and I feel as if this is my real family. The family grills asado often, which is a big deal of meat and laughter outside. Sharing my music, food, and family stories with them is hilarious. Diego enjoys introducing me as his “adopted daughter” to his friends.
Sabrina and I go on lots of adventures together. We have gone mountain climbing, grocery shopping, pizza making, and shopping. She taught me tela at the park, we attended a book fair downtown, and we ordered ice cream on the phone. Late night movies are also completely okay since school starts at 1:30pm 🙂 She is like a real sister to me.
3. Why did you decide to study abroad?
Last year I had the opportunity to host an international student from Vietnam. I had an amazing experience learning about her culture and we became very close friends. The idea of my studying abroad began as a joke with my parents. They teased me about going to China. The idea sounded ridiculous at first, because I would have to give up so much. Volleyball season, Oboe practices, PSAT, football games, summer weightlifting, youth group, Awana Sparks and my favorite season, fall. But as I read blogs online, I realized that it was something I would really be interested in. Sophomore year I felt very bored. I worked very hard but I was lacking purpose and motivation in my schoolwork. My teachers, friends, and family encouraged me to do something different, and to go on this adventure.
4. How challenging has it been to learn the language?
Before I came, I had two years of Spanish. That was good enough to communicate in a basic survival way. Language was very hard the first two weeks, everything sounded like gibberish and my head would hurt from thinking in Spanish. I grew language stamina however, and by 5 weeks I could understand most everything. It is crazy how smart the human brain is; I often say words that I don’t remember learning. I would encourage any Spanish learners to listen to music and TV as much as they can.
5. What are the biggest cultural differences between the US and Argentina?
I would say the biggest cultural difference is that life here doesn’t revolve around the clock. Events never starts on time. It was hard to adjust to such a flexible schedule; even my school starts 20-30 minutes late everyday. I am used to knowing daily plans in advance, but here, I am learning how to go with the flow. Sometimes my host mom is just like “Let’s go! It is time to go to a party down the street!”
6. Was culture shock difficult?
For me culture shock was an emotion of feeling out of place. After the initial feeling of adventure and adoration of differences, I became annoyed at my mistakes and wanted to be shy and silent all the time. A hard cultural difference was how direct correction is. If you are doing something wrong, people will call you out in a very loud way. I was initially very embarassed about this, but I was humbled and I learned to be very teachable. There is a group chat with all the Aspect exchange students in Argentina, and we help and encourage one another.
7. How is your daily life different?
My school starts at 1:30 in the afternoon, so my daily life is very different. I can play sports in the morning, and also sleep in. Back home, I would spent a lot of my evenings doing homework. Here, they do not have homework for classes so I have more time to hang out with friends and family. The weekends are filled with spending time with friends all around the city.
8. How is school different?
My school separates junior year into two different classes: Social Studies or Science. I am in the science classroom, along with 25 other students. The teachers come to the classroom, and when they enter we have to stand up to greet them. I have 13 teachers that come once or twice a week for around 80 minutes. I take Math, Physics, Earth Science, English, Spanish, History, Music, Geography, Psychology, Chemistry, Health Schience, Biology, and FVT (Informacion para vida y trabajo). I have no homework for these classes, but we spend a lot of time taking notes in class while the teacher lectures. I am given extra help and assistance from the teachers on tests because I am an exchange student. School goes from 1:30-7:30pm every day with the exception of Fridays, in which we have an early out at 4:30pm. During the school day we have three recessional breaks for 10 minutes.
9. Do you ever get homesick?
I have spent time away from my family before, but being in another country is completely different. I am not only away from my family, I am away from my entire culture. In the beginning I wasn’t homesick because I was distracted by all the newness and adventure. As I hit culture shock, it was hard to think positively about my stay and I began to miss my home. Eventually Argentina became my new home, and my host family became my family. I am now comfortable with the culture, and I dont feel homesick as often. I am only staying for a semester, which is a short time.
10. Was it difficult to arrange your classes so you have enough credits to graduate after your exchange semester? Do your credits from Argentina transfer?
I took a lot of classes my freshman and sophomore year, so it was not hard at all to take a semester off. I will graduate easily. I chose to transfer my Argentine credits as audit anyway, just to have them on my transcript. Audit credits do not count towards my GPA, so I do not have to worry about getting As in my classes that are in spanish.
11. How feasible is studying abroad for an average high school student?
Many students at my high school are involved in many extracurriculars. For me it was hard to give up band, sports, and AP classes for the semester. However, this sacrifice has been completely worth it. It actually has given me great perspectives on high school in general. The accomplishments will last only for a second, but the relationships you make in high school will last a lifetime. I say it is very easy to be an exchange student.
12. Who would you recommend being an exchange student to?
I think if you have the opportunity to go, then go. For me this opportunity was in high school. It is harder to go earlier than normal, and many people thought I was crazy. But I think the advantages of a high school experience is that classes are not as important because they don’t go towards your major. I am glad I went when I did because I was getting restless with high school, and my mom thought I was lacking purpose and motivation with my studies. It was time to learn in a new way, in a new culture, and in a new language. I would recommend this to anyone who can. It forces you to understand and challenge yourself.
Studying abroad is like a maturity shot. It forces you to be independent, teachable, and flexible. I have learned countless lessons, including how to be a follower. All my life I have desired leadership, I was the planner. In Argentina, I have no idea what a day will bring, so I have learned to go with the flow and stay flexible.
Being immersed in Spanish is a unique experience and it is much easier than learning from a textbook. If you want to go, then take a leap of faith and go on an adventure.