By Salome Richaards (YES 2019-2020, Suriname, placed with AFS in Des Moines, IA)
My exchange year started like any other. I was scared, nervous, and very excited. When first arriving in the U.S., I took part in the DC orientations, which were super fun and helped prepare me for what lay ahead. Afterwards, I flew to my host state. I first met my host mom and liaison, then the rest of my host family.
At the beginning of my exchange, I didn’t feel very homesick. However, I did struggle with some of the new foods I encountered and tasted for the first time. I didn’t really like them, but this was because I wasn’t used to them yet. My taste palate did adapt over the course of the year. On my first day at my new school, I was super excited. I already made some friends by starting volleyball practice before school started. Joining different clubs and activities really helped me make friends in the U.S. I learned to approach people and try to make friends, instead of waiting for them to talk to me. The people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made were personally the best part of my exchange year. As is commonly said, exchange isn’t a year in your life but a lifetime in one year.
Exchange made me grow as a person in so many different ways. I became more independent and the way I view the world also changed. I’m not only more aware about American culture, but also about many other different cultures of fellow exchange students. One of the most important lessons I learned was how to balance the things I do and when to compromise. I was presented with many obstacles regarding school, clubs, community service, sports, friends, and my host family. Learning to divide my time and energy across the board was personally a little bit difficult, but I put in effort to make things work. Honestly, my exchange year wasn’t all roses—there were times I felt really sad or angry, but other times I felt really happy.
Life is filled with ups and downs and so it is understandable that my exchange year was also filled with ups and downs. My exchange year was turned upside down when the coronavirus struck. At first, I wasn’t too worried about it, but as it progressed, uncertainty set in. I didn’t know if I would be sent home or if I would be staying in the U.S. longer than my return date. Quarantine was hard because I couldn’t see my friends anymore and didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to them. My host family did try to make staying indoors interesting, and that did help me a bit. I was sent home early, but in the end, I am happy to have arrived safely back in Suriname with all the other Surinamese exchange students. My exchange year was very unique because of the virus, and I will always remember it.
Thank you for reading my exchange story, and please stay safe.