Guest Column: Appreciating our differences

Involvement in foreign exchange program is enriching experience


After eight months of preparation for the biggest journey of my life so far, It is my turn to be an exchange student. What brought me to this idea was the will to join the family history tradition, since all of my five cousins, my brother and my mom were exchange students in the United States. I would finally have a story of my own to tell after a semester.

  I also love to travel and see the world through a different culture’s view, so what a better way to do that than to actually live with complete strangers? With this in mind, I left my city, São Paulo in Southeast Brazil, to dive into the unknown and face (almost) everything by myself for the first time.

  I passed a rough start and had to live in two different homes before I finally found a caring and fun family here in Warsaw. Or, in better words, they found me. I was picked by the Miller’s, and it has been a blast ever since.

  It is all new to me: the small town, the school, the fact that I’m a “big sister,” the weather.

  São Paulo is a huge city, which means it is really unlikely to see the same person passing by you twice on the street. That’s why it’s been really interesting to find out that the police officer could be your friend’s uncle, or the waitress could be your classmate’s mom. Everyone kind of knows each other and that is pretty cool to me.

  The school is also really different. Back home, I have a twelve-subject schedule with no electives, which is really tiring but also very rewarding at the end of the day. Getting to pick the classes I want to take is a really liberating moment, even though I have some requirements to get the credits when I go back home.

  I think that elective classes have a positive impact in the daily school life, since between classes that I’m not that good at, there are classes that I really enjoy that make the day more interesting. Another aspect that I think is really great is the four-day week, which gives me more time to rest in the weekend and organize all the things I can’t do during the week in exchange of just one more hour in school days. For me, that has been a pretty good deal. Back home I experience a five-day week, from seven thirty to four thirty.  

  The family structure has also been something that I enjoy, since I’m the youngest back home and now I’m the “big sister” for James and Mason, my two little host brothers. That’s actually a really fun relationship because it made me realize how funny kids are with all of their imagination and curiosity.

  The weather got me. I never thought the end of summer could be this hot, which I enjoy since I don’t deal very well with lower temperatures. The coldest we get in my city was 48 degrees fahrenheit, and that’s once in a blue moon and always happens during night, so we don’t really have to deal with it. Still, I’m looking forward to experience how people do their normal life activities in the winter, or at least in the beginning of it. I’m also excited about celebrating holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving because some American holidays aren’t shared with Brazil.

  Among cinnamon rolls, things that mow grass, strawberry milk, football, teenagers that drive (driving age in Brazil is 18), grocery stores that sell guns and all the first experiences I’m having, I am learning the importance of wanting to know more about different cultures in order to enrich ourselves and the world with knowledge and empathy.