Fia Andersen in Argentina

I’m nearing the end of my stay here in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is a bittersweet feeling. I clearly remember how the nerves finally registered as the pilot announced we would be landing in Ezeiza International Airport in 15 minutes. I was tired and disoriented as the pilot made another announcement saying that we would have to stay in the air for up to an hour because of the unexpected fog surrounding the airport. The pilot then announced that if we couldn’t land, we would have to fly across the country and land in Mendoza, 600 miles away from Buenos Aires. Surprisingly, I didn’t panic. Somehow I knew, without ever meeting my host family, that they would be extremely supportive and helpful if the worse case scenario was to happen. Thankfully, the plane landed safely in Buenos Aires an hour later. I rushed through customs and the baggage claim and suddenly it was time to leave the comfort of the airport terminals and into the reality of being in a foreign country. I walked out of the automatic doors and I was welcomed by my host mom and by a much needed hug from Mili, my host sister. With this hug, I knew that we would create a lifelong friendship.

When I arrived at their home I was welcomed with more kisses on my right cheek from her two sisters, twin brother, and her dad, stares from her two cats Asia and Menta, medialunas, and dulce de leche. The next day in school I was once again welcomed with cheek kisses and greetings by some of the kindest people I have ever met. The first week blurred together in a mix of Argentinian candy and treats, friendly greetings, cold mornings and pretty sunrises, and learning a whole new way of pronouncing Spanish. I have been all around downtown Buenos Aires, with both my host family and my new friends. I saw Recoleta and the cemetery, Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada, MALBA, la Boca, and walked through the streets of Buenos Aires.

There have been so many amazing experiences on this trip, and my favorite parts are not just sightseeing in the city. At Athenian, I haven’t really experienced free time after school because of a really busy schedule with homework and sports. Here, even though school ends at 4:30, I have so much time after school to just relax which is such a nice feeling. Mili and I have spent our afternoons with “tomar el té”, watching our favorite show together, going on runs, and realizing how much we have in common. One of the things that surprised me the most about Argentina is the late dinner times. I expected later dinners at like 8… but on the first night I was eating dinner at 10:30. This took so long to get used to when in California the first thing I do after school is rush to dinner. But with a snack and tea after school which is called “tomar el té” I could make it until the late dinner. “Tomar el té” became my favorite meal of the day. We drink tea and eat Argetnian pastries like the sugary croissants called medialunas.

In Argentina, I’ve gotten a sense of a calm and balanced culture compared to the US’s “busy” culture. Things here aren’t rushed or stressed and there is time to enjoy myself instead of being hurried through the week. There is time to talk to your friends, there is so much time to relax in any way that works for you, and especially at Godspell College the pressure for perfect grades doesn’t really exist. Here, the students’ skills in a certain class are graded on your performance throughout the entire quarter or semester rather than a single test you might have done badly on and their grades are based on a whole different scale. I have personally always put so much pressure on getting good grades, so experiencing school in such a different way from what I’m used to is really refreshing and was much needed for me. 

Even though I have had the time of my life here it hasn’t been easy. I kinda assumed that I wouldn’t feel homesick at all, and of course that wasn’t true. About halfway through my stay I started to really miss my family. Going back home felt so far away and I wasn’t completely new to Argentina. It lasted for about a day or two until I told myself to take my time here day by day and that I shouldn’t worry about going home just yet. And it worked, because now I’m here and I’m leaving way too soon. Being away from your usual routine and your family and friends is difficult, so my biggest advice to anyone going on exchange is to find your own routine and build some structure in a new and unpredictable place. Finding time to be alone was especially important to me. Once I knew my way around the neighborhood, I’ve been going on runs on my own to get some peace of mind and time to reflect on my experience. Also, everyday I wrote in my exchange journal about anything and everything and it helped me so much. The language barrier was difficult especially in friend settings because it’s hard to participate in a conversation and it’s hard to participate like usual. So my journal really helped me get random feelings and thoughts out.  

I’m getting sad writing this because I know I won’t ever experience something like this again, and that I won’t get to spend so much time with Mili and her family again in the same way. I’ve built such a great relationship with her family and it is one of the things that makes me saddest about leaving. I feel so appreciated by her family, and I’m sure that my experience would not have been as good without them. I will miss them so much and I can’t wait to see them again when my family and I come to visit again. I will never forget this trip or the friends I’ve made here both with people and my host family’s cats. When Mili comes to visit my family and Athenian, I can’t wait to give her an equally amazing experience. Te amo Argentina.

Miriam Moyes’ Time in Denmark

After 12 hours of silence, discomfort and anxiety, walking off the plane into the unfamiliar Copenhagen airport was unsettling to say the least. I made my way through passport control, where I was immediately teased for my accent. Then I wandered towards the exit where my host family was waiting for me. Once I found my host family, I spent a night at their house, and the next day we headed for Herlufsholm, my exchange school.

Walking into the school, I could tell that the two schools–Herlufsholm and Athenian–were wildly different. Not only did the modern architecture and paved pathways of Athenian oppose the cobblestone streets and brick buildings that resembled castles I had only seen in movies, but I could feel the immediate difference in the atmospheres of the schools. The 500-year-old Herlufsholm was full of fascinating traditions that were completely foreign to me. They had uniforms, Prefects, forbidden benches, and a centuries-old church that we attended daily. While we had our own dorm rooms for storing clothes, doing homework, and taking the occasional nap, there was a dedicated sleeping room containing walls lined with beds for each student living in their respective dormitories.

In Denmark, while the national language is Danish, most people can hold a conversation in English, and English is a required class in school from a very young age. At Herlufsholm, the majority of classes are in Danish, but there is a separate IB (International Baccalaureate) program that has English classes. The IB program contains mostly boarding students, many from countries all over the world. I found that I connected quickly with the people in the IB program, all of whom spoke English throughout the day, and reminded me more of people at Athenian and in the Bay Area.

While overall, this was one of the most beneficial experiences of my life, that is not to say it wasn’t difficult at some points. Oftentimes, I found myself sitting in a room for hours at a time, completely lost in the language. Occasionally, with enough context clues, I could figure out the general conversation, but I could never fully understand what anybody was saying. Sitting in a room for long periods of time not understanding nor being able to join in conversation was the hardest part of my experience, and sometimes caused me to feel isolated. As my exchange went on, however, I tried to embrace it. Sometimes I would play little games in my head as people spoke to each other or try to guess what they were saying just by the way the words sounded.

Before going to Denmark, my exchange partner warned me of how Danes are often perceived, and said that they aren’t as welcoming as she found Americans to be. While in California, she was shocked if I would just go up to people at school and talk to them even though we weren’t close friends, or if my mom had a conversation with a cashier, or even if we were on the bus and sat next to a stranger. This made me nervous to make friends, because going up to people and having a random conversation, or sitting next to a stranger on a bus was the culture I was raised in and I had never known anything different. This was what I was probably MOST nervous about when leaving California, but I found the opposite of what she had said. Sure, people in Denmark didn’t always want to start the conversations, but if I initiated, they always seemed interested in keeping the conversation going. I found that the people I spoke to were some of the most kind, honest and open people I have ever met. They were curious to hear about my life and my experience, and were excited to teach me about Denmark and what it has to offer. They didn’t sugarcoat things and didn’t talk around the subject. They just spoke about things how they were, something I greatly admired. 

The first three days of my exchange were difficult and isolating, but the other 28 were some of the best and most interesting days I can remember. I learned a lot more about the world, and a lot more about myself. Going through this experience has made me realize what I am capable of, and I am proud of myself and everybody else who has ever gone on exchange, because it’s not an easy experience. That being said, I would highly recommend exchange to anybody who wants to step out of their comfort zone, because I truly loved it and made unforgettable memories. 

Cecilia Bersamin Reflects on her Time in Colombia

Looking back, the first few weeks of my new life in Bogotá are blurry. I remember arriving in the city, excited by the bustle of life. I remember sampling ten different colorful fruits on my first night. I remember driving 13 hours to the beautiful coffee region–the part of Colombia that Encanto was based on. A week into my exchange I came down with a horrible sickness. Eventually I went to the ER, and it turns out I had a bad case of Covid. So began my quarantine. For another week I was stuck in my room, with a family of strangers, in a rural coffee plantation almost 4,000 miles from home. A bit of a rocky start to my exchange. 

This gave me time to think and ponder what I had experienced the previous two-and-a-half weeks. Even though I hadn’t been there for long, hadn’t even been to school, I was already coming across challenges. The language barrier was difficult to adjust to, but each day I was feeling more and more comfortable understanding and talking in Spanish. It was definitely weird having a maid, something I had never experienced before. But I became friends with the maid and her five-year-old granddaughter. 

While Ana, my exchange sister, did work to keep up with her school, I went on walks around El Rosario, the family’s “finca.” It was beautiful. The flora and fauna in Colombia are hard to imagine coming from California, the land of golden rolling hills. In the coffee region everything is green, sprinkled with a rainbow of flowers of all shapes and sizes. There are loud colorful birds darting between the trees at all times of the day. Yes, there are bugs everywhere. (Pro tip: never leave your light on when your door is open.) And the house! Imagine La Casita straight out of Encanto: the shingled roof, big open rooms, plant baskets everywhere, even a courtyard in the middle. 

We finally left and I was over the virus. I hardly remember my first day of school, it was so overwhelming. So much Spanish, a lot of introductions, and I only remembered Ana’s name. What stood out was that everyone took the time to introduce themselves, ask about my time so far in Colombia, and about my life in California. I could already tell I would have a fun time at the Anglo. 

The last three weeks were the most memorable, amazing experience in my life. I looked forward to every day at school. I loved talking to people about their lives in Colombia and their values. I sought out every bit of culture and lifestyle there was, intrigued by the new and different. I felt the sense of unity that the Anglo had, something I hadn’t felt in the same way at Athenian. I discovered new things about myself. 

The soccer games might have been the most fun. We would take the bus, start playing, and then, of course, it would start pouring rain. We were shivering and splashing on the field all with smiles on our faces. The school team was probably the best team I have ever played on. Their skills were on a whole other level, I think because they were much more dedicated to the game. I became a better soccer player in just the few games that I played in. 

Then there were the parties: the music, the dancing, the food. It was so much fun. Everyone was so happy and energetic and wanted to talk to you. Strangers would come up to me and teach me how to dance like a Colombian. 

On my flight home I realized I would never have another experience like this again. I could come back to Colombia, but it wouldn’t be the same. I was so new to the culture, so fully immersed. I was happy dancing, sad when I missed my family, scared when I went to the ER, nervous to play in the soccer games. It was such a complete trip. I learned about myself, a new culture, new people–and I can’t wait to go back to Colombia.

Cecilia Bersamin is in Colombia

cecilia-bersaminI have now been in Colombia for one week. My arrival went very smoothly, and my first few days were pretty low key. We rested. I saw some of the views in the city. We went to the spa. It was very interesting to be so far from everything at home. I wasn’t thinking about school, about the people I usually think about. It was entirely new. It was a nice change of scenery and opened my eyes to a whole new world to enjoy. 

There have been some differences that have been tricky adjusting to in the last few days. It is very strange having a maid do everything for me, an experience I have never had. It almost makes me feel guilty, although I know she is just doing her job. It has also been tricky finding the motivation to keep up with the various things I have to do/organize for school back home. 

image3Another difference is the language. While I am trying to speak and understand as much Spanish as possible, it makes communication difficult when I only know a small portion of the vocabulary. When we speak in English, the conversations flow differently here. It is less of relating to what the other person is saying and sharing the conversation, and more of taking turns speaking about various things. So, it has been harder for me to feel connected. 

On the other hand, we are in the most beautiful place in the world. There are so many birds singing so many different things at once, perched on so many colors of flowers and shapes of leaves. I haven’t started school yet and we are on vacation in the coffee region where my exchange family has a home. I feel spoiled here with access to a pool, delicious food, and not busy. It really is paradise. 

I am excited to start school and meet more people. So far I have only met a few people. I made friends with Ana’s (my exchange sister) cousin, and the maid’s granddaughter, a five-year-old. I can’t wait to meet all the people at school, and especially to play soccer with them. I have missed competition and games, as my exchange family doesn’t partake in it much. 

While there is so much to love here, I see why people get homesick. At first, I thought I would never be homesick; however, I do miss my home a bit.

I can’t wait to tell everyone about my trip when I am back!

Aradhya Aggarwal’s Virtual Exchange at Athenian

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At first, the idea of a virtual exchange seemed unsettling and futile. How was I supposed to settle into a school’s system “virtually”? Even though Zoom was a far cry from an in-person exchange, there was a lot I could take away from this experience.

I was introduced to Jack, my exchange partner. Even though I like to keep all my stereotypes aside, it was difficult for me to believe that a Chinese American was not a math stud! Regardless, I realized that Jack is an amazing person. I had a great time connecting with him over Zoom calls, watching movies, and discussing our college plans (in the States).

As a virtual exchange student, the twelve-and-half-hour time difference between India and California was the biggest issue. Most of my meetings were either late in the night or early in the morning. However, the Athenian Exchange team was really helpful and they shifted my classes to the time slots that suited my schedule.

While my school and Athenian shared the same liberal and outgoing culture and set of traditions that almost all boardings do–such as calling teachers by their first names–Athenian was unorthodox about how they conducted their classes and meetings. Athenian created a comfortable environment for each individual to speak freely without having the concern of being politically correct or being confined by the set of classroom rules. I really appreciated that.

Additionally, I also got to connect with Mark Lukach, a humanities teacher at Athenian. Mark is helping me with my research even after my exchange is over! After I saw Mark’s inspirational TED talk, I never thought that I would have been able to actually meet him (virtually)!

I thank the Athenian team for helping me make the best out of this experience. To fill my (in-person) void, I look forward to visiting Athenian when I come to California.

Micaela Torres’ Exchange Experiernce

MicaelaMy name is Micaela Torres and I attend Markham College in Lima, Peru. This exchange was a great opportunity to get to know new people around the world and to see how other schools work and have adapted to the circumstances. Personally, I felt really welcomed by the students, teachers, and the whole Athenian staff. During Entrepreneurship class we had to pick our ‘co-founder’ to start a new project for the bimester. It was nice to get along with new people and start talking about our interests, and to then get paired with them to design a product both of us would enjoy.   

I believe the most challenging part of this exchange was the different time zones. Here in Lima, we are 3 hours ahead from California, so sometimes class could start early in the morning for Athenian students, but at lunch time for us. Another challenge could be the way we call the teachers. Here at Athenian, I learned that teachers were called only by their first name, yat my school every teacher is called with a ‘Ms.’ Or ‘Mr.’ and their last name.

Both Athenian and Markham offer after school activities, including, sports, talks, homework clubs, etc. At Athenian the clubs or affinity groups are a great space to connect with others, not only students but also the teachers. At Athenian, there is a wider option of clubs than my school, so I was able to learn new things I don’t normally get the chance to.

Throughout these weeks, I felt great and liked the fact that every Friday all the exchange students had advisory to catch up and just talk about what has been going on. Also, my exchange, Amanda Dornsife, was a great host. We always had a chat and if I had any doubt, I always contacted her. We have a good friendship even though we are still not able to physically meet ourselves, I would love to keep in contact with her.  

Overall, this virtual exchange opportunity was a great way to start the year. Everyone in the school is so welcoming and caring, I can’t wait to physically visit the school!

Lara Cadarso’s Virtual Exchange

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My name is Lara Cadarso. I study at San Silvestre School in Lima, Peru. My exchange time at Athenian has been amazing, and I believe that I will carry it on with me.

For me, the best part of the Athenian exchange was making new friends and attending lessons I didn’t have back at my school. For example, I took Speech and Debate, which was very interesting as I got to learn about all the different types of debate and how they are performed. US History was very fun as in my school they teach me a different kind. The students and teachers created a very welcoming environment for us, which made me feel accepted from the beginning. Although this virtual exchange thing is new and doing it in person would have been better, I believe doing it was still a great experience.

My exchange buddy, Phoebe, was very kind. Even though I had another host at first, I had a great time with her. She was very welcoming and nice from the beginning. We shared a lot of things in common and connected via zoom. One of my highlights was when we met each other’s families as it was very fun to chat with them. I also really liked learning more about her country, as she did of mine.

The most challenging part of the exchange was probably the time difference as some of my classes were somewhat late. The time difference between San Francisco and Peru is 3 hours. However, I still attended them, and tried my best to enjoy them without minding the time.

My school and Athenian are quite different. One of the main differences is that at my school we call the teachers “Mr” or “Mrs” and at Athenian they are called by their first names. I found this weird at first, but now I’m more used to the idea. Another big difference is the clubs. In my school, they are after our whole school day ends, while at Athenian they are part of the school schedule. The variety of clubs at Athenian is also much wider than at my school. I found this really exciting, as I could enroll in a club that matched my personal interests.

In conclusion, this exchange helped me step out of my comfort zone, make long lasting memories, and build friendships that will last a lifetime.

My Experience at Athenian

BiancaMy name is Bianca Alarcon and I attend San Silvestre School in Lima, Peru. My eight-week virtual exchange at The Athenian School has been wonderful; there is no other way to describe how nice and welcoming the students and teachers are. I feel so happy and thankful about pushing myself to participate in this opportunity that has been fulfilled more than a hundred percent.

I chose to take two courses: Speech & Debate and ESL World History. I especially enjoyed my speech and debate class because I got to learn new useful strategies and ways of debating. It was a very memorable experience because I had the opportunity to help Athenian students prepare for a debate at Harvard. Furthermore, my world history class turned out to be American history, which I liked very much. It was super fun and interesting because I didn’t know much about it. I always think that it’s good to learn new things. Taking these two classes I am amazed by how much I could learn in this short amount of time. I am really thankful because my teachers and classmates were very supportive and were always willing to help me. 

Also, I had the opportunity to join some meetings of “The Bring Change to Mind” Club, which is a club where students and teachers can talk freely about mental health issues. I found it interesting because it was something relatively new for me and was impressed by all the awareness about it. Moreover, I attended several discussions and assemblies related to black history month and the Black Lives Matter movement. I am impressed by how involved the Athenian School is. I had the chance to participate in many activities related to this and learned so much. Additionally I attended two Spanish language classes and I am so impressed by the Spanish level everyone had. I wasn’t expecting such a great level. I really enjoyed the Athenian students’ interest in learning about Peruvian culture. We exchanged questions about school life, politics, food, friends, and family in order to help them on the cultural part of their AP tests.

My biggest challenge throughout the exchange was the time difference; Lima is three hours ahead than California. This was hard for me because most of my classes were around 10 or 11 in the morning meaning that in Lima these were at 1 or 2 PM–our usual lunch time. Another challenge was getting used to calling teachers by their first names instead of Mr. or Miss. To be able to overcome these challenges, I started to organize myself better, eat my lunch earlier, and tried my best to call teachers by their first names. 

Finally, the best part of my exchange has been meeting Chloe, my exchange buddy. We made zoom calls every week and the fun never ended. She is a super outgoing person and host. She made me feel welcome from the very start. Although everything was virtual, I believe we both had an incredible time getting to know each other. I am going to miss her very much yet and we are going to keep in contact.

I just want to say how thankful I am for this opportunity. I am so happy how everything turned out. This experience has truly been one of my most memorable summers in my life, all thanks to the Athenian school, their teachers and their students.

Saumya Agrawal’s Virtual Exchange at Athenian

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My name is Saumya Agrawal and I’m 17 years old. I study at Vivek High School in India. My experience as a virtual exchange student at Athenian is something I will carry forward with me. 

Before attending Athenian classes, I never thought that meetings over Zoom could be this interactive and exciting. I got to interact with a lot of Athenian students, at the Round Square club and in my advisory group, all having one thing in common, a friendly smile and a welcoming nature. My exchange partner, Sydney Alveda was extremely kind to me. We instantly connected over long emails, texts and Zoom calls. 

Attending Athenian’s all-school meetings on Fridays has been one of my highlights as I got to hear what students really felt about the Black Lives Matter movement. It felt really empowering to see the faculty members and students come together to create a space where there was absolute freedom of expression and everyone was willing to hear what others had to say. 

One of the challenges I faced while attending Athenian classes was the time difference. As there is a 13-hour difference between California and India, most of my Athenian meetings were either late night or early morning. Dealing with this taught me how to manage my time better and more efficiently. 

There are a lot of things at Athenian which are very different from and better than my home school. Here I was asked to call all the teachers by their first name, whereas back home we only address them as sir or ma’am. I noticed that the students here are constantly motivated to speak, and I really appreciate this. The nature of communication between teachers and students at Athenian is very friendly. I really enjoyed being in an Advisory Group for the first time. I was able to talk openly about everything without any hesitation. 

Attending this exchange helped me step out of my comfort zone. I still remember, on the first day of my exchange, I was told to be the most outgoing version of myself. I followed that advice and made memories I will never forget. 

Chloe Burrows’ Experience in Peru

Chloe BurrowsMy experience as a virtual exchange student at the San Silvestre School in Lima, Peru is one I will not soon forget. Despite the obvious differences between an in-person exchange and a virtual one, it was still an incredible opportunity.

The best part of going on exchange is making friends with people who live in a completely different place. While it was harder for me to immerse myself in Peruvian culture because everything was over Zoom, there were a few experiences that gave me the opportunity to get beyond the screen and learn more about Peru and my host family.

My exchange buddy was so kind and welcoming. We instantly connected over Netflix, especially because that was one thing that had become a staple of life over quarantine. It was also interesting to see the effects of COVID in Peru, and I was surprised that we were actually having similar quarantine experiences. I also had the opportunity to get to know another girl at the school. We had a bunch of classes together, and we were in the same group for many projects. She also taught Victoria, another exchange student from Athenian, and I how to cook a meal that her family usually makes on Christmas. It was so fun to share traditional family recipes and spend some time getting to know each other.

One of the challenges I faced while going to school in Peru was the language barrier. Usually, the students who to go to Peru for exchange are taking Spanish in school, or at least, can understand the language. However, because it was a virtual exchange, I was able to go to school in Peru despite not knowing Spanish at all. This proved to be a challenge because while the main classes I attended were taught in English, the extracurricular classes were taught in Spanish. Although it was sometimes difficult to figure out what was happening in the classes, I got better at following what the other students in the class were doing. I also got much better at using google translate throughout the whole experience.

In conclusion, going on exchange, even over Zoom, is an incredible opportunity. You are able to form connections with people you would otherwise never meet, and you will learn so much about another culture.