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Opportunity of a Lifetime
 By Valkyrie   •   10th Jun 2010   •   6,588 views   •   37 comments
For the last ten months I have been blessed enough to spend time in America and attend an American school as part of the EF (Education First) high school exchange programme. I have made many wonderful friends, met a lot of interesting people and learnt about another culture. I thought America was pretty similar to New Zealand, but boy was I wrong!

Opportunity of a LifetimeIt wasn’t just the fact that Americans drive on the other side of the road from New Zealanders, or that high school was A LOT bigger (my high school back home has 600 people, and my one here in America had close to 1500), it was also little things like Americans eating a lot more junkfood and using different words for things I’d grown up calling “bumpers” and “boots”.

It all started in August of 2008 when I heard they were giving out brochures at my high school for an exchange company. My family had often hosted People 2 People students for a few days and I’d enjoyed talking with them (they were always Americans) so I went and got a brochure to read about it. I talked to my parents and, though they were reluctant, they agreed. Originally I planned to go from January ’09 to November ’09 (one school year in New Zealand) so I would miss my last year of high school and just have to repeat it when I got back.

But it didn’t give me enough time to plan and look forward to it, so instead I chose to do a full American year of school to get all I could out of it. So I sent in the paperwork and chose the Mountain States region to be placed in. Then I had to wait. In May of ’09 I got a call telling me I’d been placed with a family in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Sometime in June I attended a meeting in Auckland with the other exchange students leaving at the same time as me, there were only twenty from the entire country and all but two were going to America (the others were headed to France).

On July 21st I woke up and went downstairs to watch TV, then went outside to say goodbye to my miniature horses Star and Beauty. It was a rainy, wet, windy day when I last saw the home I had lived for eight years in and headed to Auckland International Airport. I’m the most stoic, un-girlish person I know, but I still cried like a baby when I said goodbye to my family and went to board the plane that would take me away from my home country filled with family and friends to a place where I knew no-one at all.

After thirty-six hours of travel (and only two measly hours of sleep) I landed in Idaho Falls and met my host family for the first time. They were super nice to me, but I was so dead on my feet and missing home that it was all I could do not to lapse into tears again.

It has been just over ten months since that first day, and I am glad I have done this. I have so many wonderful memories to cherish now, and honestly, how many New Zealanders can say they went to an American prom, or saw buffalo walking along the side of the road?

In my time here in Idaho I have done classes I certainly would never have been able to do back home (including Military History, Government, Zoology, Creative Writing and Spanish), I have taken up a sport I probably never would have even seen being played back in New Zealand (fencing), I have been to Yellowstone National Park twice, I had my first white Christmas and snowball fight and have been able to buy gadgets like an iPod Touch and a cute 10.1 inch laptop that are super expensive back home.

Opportunity of a Lifetime
Me (left) and my family when they came to visit.

Opportunity of a Lifetime
My host parents (left) and my real parents (right).

But the best part of my exchange was probably my 18th birthday. I turned 18 on the 16th of April and my real family (minus my younger brother Mitchell) came to visit me! They took me to L.A. for an entire week. We went to Bubba Gumps restaurant and Medieval Times (which I adored, being the history freak I am). We spent most of our days at Disneyland and one day up at Hollywood. I’m also able to say I have walked along both sides of the Pacific after spending a day at Santa Monica beach with my dad.

Now I have come full circle. On June 9th I will say farewell to my wonderful host family and brilliant new friends, then fly back to New Zealand. I am excited to see my miniature horses again, but I can’t help feeling that nothing has changed, and at the same time everything has. The friends I have back home are no longer at high school, they’re all off at University where I would be if I didn’t do this exchange. They have met new people like I have, they have new friends like I do, their horizons have broadened just like mine, although in different ways. I’m almost scared to see them again, because if they see me they might just see the kid I used to be.

In a way, though, I am glad. I have had an extra six months to decide what I want to do when I leave high school. If I hadn’t of had that time I might be stuck at University doing a course I really don’t like. I have also had to learn how to take care of myself, from navigating LAX on my own to rationing my money to last the entire exchange. I have much better people skills too.

I would highly recommend doing an exchange to anyone, even if it’s only for a semester. There are so many fun things to do when learning about a new country, it really is the opportunity of a lifetime.

If you want to talk about it you can either message this account or find me on Nokota as The Black Kiwi.
Opportunity of a Lifetime
Opportunity of a Lifetime
Opportunity of a Lifetime
Opportunity of a Lifetime
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