Flying to another country can be scary if you are a 16 years old high school student. I have lived in Costa Rica, a small country located in Central America my whole life. I had always traveled with my family, never by myself, until now.
Arriving at the airport was tough, I knew that I was going to miss my family so much. After saying goodbye to my family, I got together with the group of people that I was flying with. I was nervous, I didn’t know what I was expected to do.
We waited in the airport for a few hours, I tried to be very observative, I hadn’t had a single interaction with any of the participants. I sat at one of the airport’s tables and waited for the flight attendants to announce our flight. The moment finally arrived, the flight attendants announced our flight. I was exhausted. We left Costa Rica at 1:00 am and I didn’t have time to rest. We had to take another flight in Houston at 5:00 a. m. to get to Chicago.
We took a tour of the city. After two flights we arrived in Chicago. It was cold, but not that freezing. Our guide decided to give us a tour of the city. I tried my best to enjoy it, but being far away from my family kept me feeling weird.
Culturally, my house is diverse. My mom is from Spain and my dad was born in Costa Rica, but my grandmother was Chinese and my grandfather Nicaraguan. At home, we have a different lifestyle and obviously different traditions.
I enjoy meeting new people and experiencing a new culture, that’s the main reason why I decided to participate in a cultural exchange to Wisconsin, USA.
Wisconsin is a state located in the US Midwest with two Great Lakes, the Michigan and the Superior. Milwaukee is its largest city, well known for the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Harley-Davidson Museum, which exhibits classic motorcycles. Wisconsin is also known for its popular beer companies located in Milwaukee, offering brewery tours.
A few hours later after our tour of Chicago, we took a bus ride to Wisconsin where our families were waiting for us. During the bus trip, I got to meet other Costa Rican high school students. They were nice, but I really wanted to go back to be at home with my family. I was scared. I didn’t want to stay away from my family for two weeks.
At the time that we were closer to our destination I got even more nervous. I didn’t want this moment to come, but the moment came. Other high schoolers were assigned to a certain family in Wisconsin. I won’t lie, I didn’t know what was waiting for me.
I opened the high school main door to get to the cafeteria where my host family was waiting for me. I couldn’t even walk, I didn’t know if I was nauseous because of the trip or because of my feelings. I had to walk, even if I didn’t want to. The high school principal introduced me to my new American family. They were gentle, but a mix of feelings were running through my mind.
My host family was very gentle and generous. I got to know them a little bit more after a few days staying with them.They used to drive me to school and on weekends they planned different activities so I didn’t get bored. Some activities were related to their traditions and others to their likes.
My host sisters were really good students. They used to drive me to school every single morning. I noticed a few differences between their high school and my high school. While I was walking in the hallways, I noticed how big the school building was. This American high school was bigger than the school buildings that I was used to see back in Costa Rica. I tried to search for an open natural area to study but I found none. In my high school we have some study areas surrounded by nature where you can relax while you work on school projects.
My high school is smaller but it certainly has more green areas which makes it unique and allows students to have more dynamic lessons during the school week. There are benches surrounded by trees which are great for giving students the feeling of fresh air while they are completing school work.
Being in an American classroom feels almost the same, but it feels awkward at the same time. Being a foreign student is in fact something that calls other students’ attention. I was the center of attention of teachers and professors which used to make me feel nervous because they always kept an eye on me. These professors don’t move from class to class like my Costa Rican professors do, they have their own class and the students are the ones who have to move to receive their assigned lessons.
The American students’ schedule is quite similar compared to the Costa Rican one. In the US I had to wake up at 5:30 am to be at school by 7:30 am to leave at 2:30 pm. In Costa Rica, we have to get to school by 7:00 am to 3:00 p. m.
Something that I found interesting was that students in the United States call their professors by their last name while in Costa Rica we constantly refer to them using the word ‘profe’, which is a shorter version of professor in Spanish and sometimes we add their first name after it.
The lunch break was different from the one I was used to. In my school, you can buy lunch, you can bring your own food, and you can also go home and take it there. In America, most students buy their own lunch at school.
In my high school you have a decent variety of nutritious food options which may go from different salads, rice, beans, plantain to fish, chicken, meat, mashed potatoes, pasta, etc. This is something that caught my attention because in Mukwonago their high school lunch wasn’t that “nutritious”. The food options were very limited, you could choose between burgers, chicken nuggets, and pizza.
The dress code of both countries are very far away from being similar. While I was sitting down in the cafeteria I started looking around me. American students have a relaxed personal choice of clothes for going to school. They can use shorts, dresses, jeans, … In my high school we have a strict dress code, we have to wear our uniforms and take care of them.
Another aspect that I found interesting was the huge difference between school subjects. In Costa Rica we don’t have eligible subjects, we have to take the ones that are assigned for us. In America, while I was looking at the students’ schedules I noticed that students can make their own schedule with the subjects they are interested in. In the US they have clubs and teams in which you can participate like basketball, dancing, swimming, football, …
In summary, American culture has its differences and similarities with the Costa Rican, but being open minded and respecting each other’s ideas can make it manageable. This exchange allowed me to experience new feelings. I remember being terrified by the fact of being far away from my family for two weeks, feeling nervous about meeting new people, and being excited about visiting new places. I would never regret participating in an activity like this because it allowed me to meet new people and their culture. I find getting closer to other new cultures fascinating, it promotes the development of cultural awareness and global citizenship. Global citizenship encourages individuals to respect others, to think critically, and to minimize harmful thoughts and actions that could affect others in a negative way. That’s the main reason why I like to motivate others to be part of these experiences. This activity left a mark in my life, it taught me how we can be different from others and have different ways of living and respect each other, building social bonds. To the student who is reading this, just be yourself, don’t overthink everything and try to be open minded when you are about to meet new people and a new culture.