What It’s Really Like To Be An Exchange Student

¨ Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving. ¨


Looking at pictures from exchange students, it looks like a lot of fun. And it is. But the thing people don´t really mention is, is that it´s really hard. Going somewhere, without knowing anyone, knowing anything about the culture. Sure, you read about it, people tell you about it.

But nobody realizes how deep a culture goes. How hard it is to do something that you have been doing for the past 17 years, differently. Most of the cultural things you don’t even realize. It goes so incredibly deep and you have no idea. It doesn’t just go from country to country, it´s different in every family, depending on social status, religion, etc. etc.

I got into somewhat of a clash with the Panamanian culture some weeks ago. The things I had done with my good intentions were not the way it was wished, but I didn’t realize this until after it was already too late.

This culture is not a big fan of directness and confrontations, where for me those are not a big problem and I consider them to learn from, but it was hard for me to hear all those things that I had done wrong without having the slightest idea it has ever bothered someone.

People think an exchange is hard because of being away from your friends and family. Of course that is true, but I think a big part of that is because you know the way of communication that your friends and family have. You understand them and they understand you, and that´s great. It’s a big step going away from all of that and starting over on your own.

I clearly remember me and some other exchange students were talking about these girls who already went home because according to them, they weren´t ready for it, to which someone said ¨Honestly, nobody really is ready for this. You just go with it.¨  And it´s true. Trust me.

I am not really sure what to say because I am not really sure how I feel. Now I changed families, again. It was not the way I expected. This whole year. I thought I would get a great bond with my family, that I would learn Spanish superfast, that people would be so interested, but that’s not how it works. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, and I tried my best for what I knew at the time.

I felt good there and I am grateful for the time I spent there in Vista Alegre, but right now this new family is definitely the best thing for me. Spanish is as I wrote before also harder as it seems, and I do speak it, I just expected way and way more from myself. And people are just not always interested. They are just not…

All in all, this is a great experience. The best experience of my life? Maybe. Hopefully life has a lot more coming for me. In any case I am extremely grateful to have been able to do this and I did learn a lot, in so many ways, much more than I imagined. I hope I don’t seem to depressed or hateful. This is just the truth. People deserve to hear more than just the pretty exchange student stories.


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