Katy Sprague’s Journey to Cape Town

As I stepped on the airplane heading to Cape Town, I knew that I was so close yet so far (at least in miles). I had just traveled over 12 hours to London (my layover). It was quite an adventure to get to South Africa.

My mom and I were at the San Francisco airport for our flight to London when I heard a woman say, “I heard the plane does not have a wheel and the airline will cancel the flight.” I was thinking “we don’t need the wheel and no they will not cancel the flight.” Ten minutes later they announced that flight was cancelled, and we needed to go home.

Thankfully, I was with my mom. She called the airline and tried to figure out what to do so I could get to South Africa. The airline told us that we needed to get our bags. I went down to baggage claim and my mom went to the check-in counter. I was talking with some fellow passengers and one the guys had an Apple Air Tag that showed our bags were still on the plane. At that point I was annoyed, stressed and nervous. After 45 minutes, our bags came and my mom and I took an Uber home. She called the airline, and they told her that there was nothing they could do. I didn’t know what to think about the flight being cancelled.

I woke up the next day and my mom told me that our flight was happening that afternoon. We got the airport and the check-in lady said that I would have to recheck my bags when I got to Heathrow. Just in case my flight got canceled, my mom had asked her friend who lives in London if I could stay with his family for the night. He said that I absolutely could. I was very thankful that I had a place to stay just in case. We got to the lounge and talked to this mom and son who were going to Europe for a couple of weeks. We get on our plane and as we taxied, I thought to myself “ok you are one step closer to your exchange.” As we were taking off, I saw Mount Diablo in the distance.

The flight to London was ten hours long. I didn’t sleep much, but watched a few movies. We landed in London and the next step was a nine-hour layover. My mom was flying on to Rome and the check-in person said that my mom had to catch her flight now, so I would be by myself for the nine hours. I tried to be strong for my mom because I wanted to show her that I could do this. I sat in the same lounge for nine hours and was starting to get really bored. I was also missing my family a lot and I just wanted to go home. But I told myself, that I could do this and I am independent and I am strong. I kept my eye on the flight board. At 9:25 my flight popped up and I headed to my gate. We boarded and I let everyone know that I made it on the flight. I was one step closer to Cape Town.

I slept for four to five hours, which really helped. It also kept my mind off missing my family. The captain came over the PA to say that we were starting our descent into Cape Town. I was excited and nervous. I had travelled for about 30 hours. I didn’t know what my exchange family was going to be like. I got through customs easily and I got my bags. Then I walked out to where everyone was and I saw my exchange, Sienna, holding a sign with my name. I immediately ran into her arms and hugged her. I felt so loved already.

The drive to their house was gorgeous. It was such a nice day when I got there. They decided to take me to a rugby game that night. When I got to their house, I met their dog and took the nicest shower of my life. After some food. we headed to the rugby game. The energy in that stadium was out of this world. South Africa won and I felt like that was the perfect way to get introduced to South African culture. After dinner at home, me and Sienna watched a movie. I slept for 12 hours, and it was so nice.

The next day, Sunday, I met some of Sienna’s friends. They were so excited to meet me, and I instantly felt welcomed into her friend group. We had a great time talking about America and similarities between South Africa and America. Monday we had off, so I had to get my unform for school. I did not want to wear a uniform, but I had to. I got a skirt and pants. The pants are comfortable, and they keep me warm.

Tuesday we started school. I was nervous and excited the same time. We had assembly first and I was told that I had to make a speech. I was anxious and wrote down what I wanted to say, but I didn’t need my phone. I talked about Athenian, and they laughed at the part where I said that America is extremely far away and another part. I thought the laughing at those parts were a good sign that they liked my speech.

I shadowed Sienna that day. Everyone asked where I was from and said that they were excited to meet me. The biggest difference between St. Cyprians and Athenian is that St. Cyps is an all-girls school, but I didn’t see that as a problem. Sometimes being at an all-girls school is nice. I had to get black lace up shoes, and I got a really bad blister on my ankle. When we finished school I got asked what I thought about the school, and I said “it felt like a 1960’s British school.” (My thought of the school changed pretty quickly.) Sienna gave me a tour of the school and I immediately felt lost because every hall looked the same to me. I found my way around the school eventually.

On Thursday mornings, I have soccer practice at 6:30 am and I wake up at 5:30 am. It was pretty hard to get up at that time, but I did it and it was nice to touch a ball again. I was tired on Thursday after a long day. On Friday, I went to a birthday party, which was so much fun. It was nice to meet people from South Africa and girls who go to my school but who are not in my classes. I got to Saturday and realized that I made it through my first week in Cape Town. It was so nice to have friends and an amazing exchange family that has been really supportive and have offered for us to do touristy things. I can’t wait to see what the rest of my exchange looks like

Eve Girzadas’ Gap Internship in France

For the spring of my Gap Year after graduating from Athenian, I worked as a student intern at Ermitage International School, a Round Square school in France. After countless emails, visa application rejections, and months of problem-solving, I arrived in Paris unsure of what to expect but ready for this three-month adventure.

Ermitage is situated north-west of Paris in the picturesque town of Maisons-Laffitte. When crossing into the town on the bridge over the Seine, the rooftops of ornate, historical homes appear between thousands of trees and endless park space. The main street is lit at night by decorative lampposts and by dawn the smell of fresh baguettes wafts from each boulangerie that lines the sidewalk. As I drove past the Châteaux de Maisons-Laffitte for the first time, the whole area looked like a fairytale.

I arrived at Ermitage and entered the most international, vibrant community I have ever been a part of. In my first week, I met students and teachers from six continents, heard dozens of languages, and was often given a list of countries when someone explained to me where they were from. In my boarding house alone, the girls came from more than ten different countries and most spoke three or four languages. The dining hall was always full of students chatting in French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and more. As an International School, Ermitage operates in both French and English; however I was grateful for every hour of French class I had taken at Athenian as a newcomer to the many francophone social and academic spaces.

My goals for my time at the school were to improve my French, immerse in French culture, and gain work experience in the international environment. In my first few weeks I discovered that each of these would not only be vital to my success in my internship, but also were goals I would inch closer to every day. As a student intern, my responsibilities included substitute teaching, supervising exams, performing administrative tasks, and walking with young students between school buildings. I also assisted on field trips, worked on school events, and helped wherever help was needed. My schedule was ever-changing and often intimidating, but always meaningful.

In my third week, I agreed to substitute for a French-speaking middle school math class even though I felt barely qualified to teach math in English, let alone French. Despite my grammatical blunders and limited abilities to help the students with their problem sets the hour I spent with the class–and the many more I taught throughout my stay–were some of my favorite and most rewarding times.

In working with students from ages 10-18, I learned how the French system impacts students in different ways than the American one I grew up in. I was able to see how problems, ideas, and even other countries might look from the students’ points of view. They told me what different issues they worried about, and what they were focused on. But more than all the differences, I saw how similar their experiences were to each others and to mine. The struggles, jokes, successes, and growing pains of middle and high school were universal for these students who described them with countless different cultures as their settings. Though I was often teased as the American in the room, it was fascinating to compare and contrast where my newfound friends and I came from. Even through monotonous tasks, I was able to learn about new places and perspectives every day and to share my own.

By the end of my time at Ermitage, I confidently spoke French at work and when out in Paris. I felt adjusted not just to French culture but also to the unique international culture I got to experience at the school. In getting to teach and work with the students, I grew to understand the impacts of education and what it can look like in an increasingly global world. My experience at Ermitage has impacted my path and perspective for the better, and I will carry what I have learned with me into college and beyond. I am infinitely grateful for my time as a Round Square Gap intern. I would highly recommend it to any student motivated to take on this immersive, challenging, and rewarding opportunity.

Ella Riebli’s Peruvian Adventure

My mother, sister and I arrived late Saturday night in Lima, Perú, and crashed unceremoniously upon the bed at our hotel room. Around midday the next day, my exchange buddy, Arantza, and her family picked us up from the hotel and drove us to their house. Later that afternoon, relatives began to stream into the house, kissing me on the cheek as they arrived. That greeting still takes a bit of getting used to. Every now and then I forget and have to pray that I didn’t accidentally offend someone. The relatives were extremely friendly, though, and soon I was enjoying a game of multilingual Monkey in the Middle with some bright-eyed, manically-smiling little cousins. At the urgings of my host father and some of the uncles, I tried Inca-Cola, an extremely sweet Peruvian soda that tastes at first like lemon-lime and then almost immediately after like liquid bubble gum. They were very eager to see if I liked it. Apparently it´s the sort of thing you either love or hate, but I still haven’t quite made up my mind.

The next day was my first day of school. I followed my exchange buddy around nervously. She was fully on top of everything: introducing me to her friends, explaining to the teachers that I was an exchange student, and taking me to the tech center so that I could get signed into the school system. Even though most of my energy that day was spent on basic survival maneuvers (such as figuring out where to sit in class while being as unobtrusive as possible, and understanding Spanish), I could still appreciate and respect the efficiency with which Arantza took care of things. When she introduced me to her friends, usually I would add in a shy ¨hola¨ and they would ask (in Spanish) if I spoke Spanish. This touched off a funny little struggle in which I had to ask them to repeat several times before I understood the question, then claim that I actually did speak a little bit of the language.

The first couple of weeks were tough on my ¨developing¨ comprehension skills, but I found that by the end of the second week I was more able to pick words out when listening to conversations. It’s the end of my fifth week now and I still have a lot of trouble with comprehension. It’s hard and exhausting trying to speak another language. I now understand enough Spanish to be able to figure out what a conversation is about, but not enough to know what people are actually saying. In comparison to the beginning of my exchange, when I understood zero things, this is an improvement, but I still have millions of kilometers (ha! Take that, imperial units) to go.

Markham College is very different from Athenian. It´s a British school in Perú, so all the faculty and students are fluent in English but generally speak Spanish outside the classroom. The educational style is different too. The school prepares the students for various sets of tests. While the homework load is light, the general expectation is that students spend the extra time studying and reviewing (which they call ¨revising¨) for their tests. Classes at Markham also seem to ¨teach to the test,¨ emphasizing that the students learn the necessary facts and techniques for what will be asked of them on their exams. Because of the standardized nature of the education, new units often do not connect to the previous ones. Class sizes are slightly larger than those at Athenian (twenty students or so, as opposed to sixteen to eighteen) but not necessarily any less efficient for it; however, unlike Athenian, class discussions are not a part of the curriculum.

What I have noticed in the people I have met here in Perú is that they are incessantly generous and always happy to take you in as one of their own. My host family is the primary example of this. They´ve been wonderful to me. When I got Covid, they were very attentive, making sure I had enough food and water and calling a doctor to come and see me, just in case. The extended family members that I have met are all friendly and kiss me on the cheek or hug me when I come to a weekend family gathering (those seem to happen a lot). The cousins were unfazed by my arrival and seem to view me as the temporary American cousin, readily including me in games with them.

With the teenagers I met at school, it was a little more difficult to make friends because the language barrier would almost always leave me out of conversation. In the first month, I felt extremely isolated because of the language barrier and thought that my peers were somewhat prickly, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thinking back, I realize that they were actually incredibly kind. Arantza´s friends were happy to adopt me into their weekend get-togethers and include me in their pre-party preparation routines. The Markham students were happy to switch to English for me once I had exhausted my Spanish abilities and in my last few days at school, people I´d considered friendly acquaintances went out of their way to tell me how nice it was to get to know me, and how sad they were that I was leaving. The people I have met in this country have been nothing but welcoming and kind, and it makes me wish I had more time here.

My recommendation for those going on exchange is to be intentional in taking care of yourself. Since your routine will be so severely disrupted, remember to do things like drink enough water (sometimes you forget but it’s important), get enough sleep (especially if you are spending lots of time trying to understand a new language), eat enough food, and exercise to burn off steam. Joining your school´s sports team is a good way to do the last one. Other things to consciously try include seeking out people to talk to (you might want to hang out with people beyond your exchange buddy and their friends, which is normal), which is tough but worthwhile. Be intentional about having fun, too. Remember that you will only be there for one to two months, so (within reason) you get to do things you wouldn’t normally do, and it doesn’t matter as much. One day, another exchange student invited me to come with him to rugby practice. I had never played before, but discovered I sort of enjoyed. I went to my first party, which was something that would have scared me in the US but that I realized was a totally manageable experience. Sometimes, I don´t do my homework because it’s my summertime and it won’t affect my Athenian grades. It’s totally okay.

Oh- and if you end up in Perú, eat as much food as you possibly can because it is excellent. I recommend all chicken dishes, as well as lomo saltado (a beef, rice and potato dish), chaufa (a Peruvian-adapted style of fried rice) and huancaina, a type of pepper sauce. If somebody offers you a stuffed pepper, eat it- everything here is so flavorful.

I’m closing in on my last few days here in Lima. I have learned so much and wish I had more time to get to know the people, the country, the language, and of course, the food!

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 Argentinian 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. 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. Also 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, every day I wrote in my exchange journal about anything and everything and that 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. 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


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


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.