Opportunity of a Lifetime
 By Valkyrie   •   10th Jun 2010   •   9,792 views   •   36 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.
Horse News More In This Category:  General      Horse News More From This Author:  Valkyrie
that sounds so fun! .. i am glad you shared this with us. it sounds like you had a great time . i live on the eastern side of the US in pennsylvannia. i want to go to germany for a year but no through the school or exchange programs i want to go to visit my uncle for a year you think you will ever want to come back to the US? (maybe to a different state)
  Jun 10, 2010  •  2,691 views
I'm glad you had such a great time in the US! However, I want you to know that not all Americans eat tons of junk food! My mom is a health nut and everything we eat is extremely healthy!
  Jun 10, 2010  •  2,901 views
Haha, I agree with Minnie. But even visiting other parts of the US, i've been surprised at how differently they do things! My highschool has approx. 2,400 people. o_O
  Jun 10, 2010  •  2,674 views
Happy Stables  MOD 
American will not be the same without you here. I'm sure you touched alot of people here too, and it was an honor for you to have been here with us. Please keep us informed of your advertures back home. I can truly say, you are so loved! : )
  Jun 10, 2010  •  2,714 views
that sounds amazing!!! i would LOVE to go to america one day!! :)
  Jun 11, 2010  •  2,712 views
Valkyrie   MOD 
Fire: I'll definitely come back :) Minnie: Lol just my host family then haha XD Weeza: Omg I totally could not handle that! 0_0 Happy: I certainly will, and thankyou :) Half: It was the time of my life.
  Jun 11, 2010  •  2,680 views
wow! 1500?! My school only has about 300... Anyways, I'm glad you got to come stay in America with us!
  Jun 11, 2010  •  2,786 views
Choco 8D  
It is such a coincidence that you have posted this!! I've been concidering doing a foreign exchange program myself (just a semester, though :D)! This article has now made me really want to be an exchange student. I have been looking at different programs, but as far as countries go I have been leaning toward either the Netherlands or... *durmroll* ...NEW ZEALAND!! :D Well anyway thank you sooo much for posting this. I'm glad you enjoyed your stay here in America with us! (Oh and by the way: Medieval. Times. Is. AWESOME! I've been to the one in Atlanta and loved it! Haha :D)
  Jun 11, 2010  •  2,926 views
Valkyrie   MOD 
Choco: I'm glad I've helped :D I was too lazy to learn another language, which is why I chose America haha.
  Jun 14, 2010  •  2,890 views
Apache Hills Valley  
I was thinking about going to New Zealand on a exchange program myself. My Cousin is in love with the country and keeps going back so I was hoping to talk my mother into letting me go over for a semester or year.
  Jun 14, 2010  •  2,889 views
MCR Equestrian 2  
WOW! it sounds like have had the time of your life! I really wish there had been opportunities like that for me when I was at school! You are one lucky lady! You should be so proud of yourself, well done!
  9 days ago  •  3,149 views
Valkyrie   MOD 
Chick: I hope that works out ^^

Team MCR: I know I am. I will always treasure the memories.
  7 days ago  •  2,889 views
wow! the things I would do to be able to travel overseas! or even have a horse...
  Sep 14, 2010  •  3,110 views
Finally There  
thats so nice! your sis is gorgeous
  Sep 22, 2010  •  3,090 views
Amazing article! love it!
Glad you had such a great time! :D
  Jan 7, 2011  •  3,094 views
That sounds so amazing. Cultural difference sounds enormous, the junk food thing would bring me down too. Glad you had a good time
  Feb 1, 2011  •  3,107 views
BME Sports  
That sounds great!
  Feb 3, 2011  •  3,253 views
Wanderin Boy Memorial  MOD 
I'm glad you had a great time =)
Nice article
  Feb 4, 2011  •  3,247 views
That was really good well done
  Feb 4, 2011  •  3,234 views
Seven Sins  
nice article
  Feb 5, 2011  •  3,243 views
Wow I wish i had enough courage to get into an exchange program. Sounds like you had fun!
  Feb 26, 2011  •  3,253 views
Clair L  
thats really cool i had a freind who did that i miss her she was really cool hope ur life is awsome and u have a good time where ever you r
  Mar 16, 2011  •  3,265 views
I love that guys legs
  Mar 19, 2011  •  3,397 views
aww... i wish i could do that
  Apr 28, 2011  •  3,414 views
T W I  
Sounds like this was a great experiance for you!
I hope to do an exchange someday.
  May 7, 2011  •  2,747 views
Aslans Roar  
sounds fun. :)
  55 days ago  •  2,704 views
wow! Sounds fuuun!
  50 days ago  •  2,700 views
All That Jazz  
Sounds like you had a great time. :)
  Aug 30, 2011  •  2,704 views
very good story
  Sep 2, 2011  •  2,707 views
It sounds fun, but I don't know if I could spend that much time away from my family :/
  Sep 9, 2011  •  2,720 views
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