California Nunes’ Time in Peru

The First Days of the Virtual Exchange

Monday was the first day of my exchange at San Silvestre, an all-girls school in Lima. I met the exchange coordinators and the two students who would be my exchange hosts. After we all introduced ourselves and talked about some of our interests, the San Silvestre girls went back to class and the four Athenian students going there on exchange got to choose what extracurricular classes we would take, as well as normal classes. I decided to take Volleyball, Model UN Training, and their drama elective. For academic classes, I was offered five, of which I chose to take three. I chose English, Math, and History of Peru, which was taught in Spanish.

Tuesday was a special day called a “Self Care Day.” There were some different activities, including dancing, smoothie making, a makeup session, face mask making, and nail painting. I chose to do the nail art session, during which I chatted with one of my hosts via the Zoom. I also joined a house meeting that was happening that day. San Silvestre has houses, which are kinda like advisories but way bigger with around 80 – 90 people each. The house leaders gave a presentation about some community service they were doing. I understood most of it, but they talked fast, so I didn’t have much time to process what they were saying. Afterwards, they hosted a couple Kahoots which I joined and had fun in.

Thursday morning, I found a text from the exchange communicator, Adriana, that something sad had happened and that she needed to talk with me and Cecilia as well as the other Athenian girls on exchange right away. Adriana gave us the news that one of my exchange host’s father had passed away the night before, and that she would be taking some time off from school. They also decided that Cecilia and I would not attend regular classes for the rest of the week to allow the community some time to process the loss. Fortunately, I was on a virtual exchange so her and her family didn’t have to actually, physically, take care of me. Otherwise it would have been a lot to handle. I still didn’t get to connect with my exchange hosts, Zoe and Natalia, as much because we wanted to give them their space and not be a burden. My family contacted a flower shop in Lima and sent flowers to my exchange host’s family. I wrote a message for them in Spanish. She told me later in a Zoom call that she had received them and that her family was thankful.


Early in the exchange I hadn’t been able to attend any academic classes yet; however, I did get to attend some extracurricular classes, including an MUN training meeting. MUN stands for Model United Nations. It is a mock meeting between countries to discuss issues many countries are confronting and potential solutions to them. I’d never been to an MUN meeting before, so it was a new experience for me. The students explained what it was and asked me if I wanted to join an unofficial practice MUN held within San Silvestre only. They had several different topics for the committees. I chose to join the one on abortion rights because you could do it with a partner. Victoria, another girl from Athenian going on exchange there, and I decided to be partners for the project. The country we were assigned was Gabon, a country in Africa, where abortion is only legal in some cases. We put together a position paper over the week and prepared for the meeting on Saturday, which would begin at 6:44 AM for us.

On Saturday morning we started with an opening ceremony, jumped right into reading the opening statements of some of the countries, and then moved on to moderated caucuses. It was kind of confusing at first. We didn’t know what to do or when we should speak, but eventually we did speak and got the hang of how the conference worked. After a few unmoderated caucuses, we formed blocs, which are groups of different countries that share similar ideas, and we began writing a working paper with the girls from other countries. After lunch, we finished writing resolution papers. When all the blocs had finished their resolution papers, we read them out and voted on them. The first vote failed, so we re-voted to see if one would pass and it still failed. We were all kind of disappointed, but it was still a really fun experience. It was one of the highlights of my exchange at San Silvestre. I got to talk and collaborate with a lot of people and had a great time.

Another elective I joined was a one-act play. I joined pretty late in the game, so the script was already completely developed and the girls were working on performing it. There wasn’t a role I could play so I didn’t get to do too much, but I helped where I could. They already had someone taking care of costumes, but they didn’t know what they were going to do for the set because using a Zoom virtual background just wasn’t working. Also, because of the way the play was translated over Zoom, each person had to have a different set in their own house. I thought it might help to find images on the internet they could either print and tape behind them or just use as a reference. They said the pictures helped and they each modeled their sets after them. I also helped timing the performance so they could know if they needed to slow it down or do it faster. Aside from timing and working on the set, I would occasionally get to fill in if someone was out, which I enjoyed. It was fun and think people are going to enjoy their play. I’m glad I was able to contribute.

The Pros and Cons of a Virtual Exchange

One of the difficulties the virtual exchange was the time difference. Peru is two hours ahead, so I would have to occasionally wake up early to go to classes and my whole day would be skewed very oddly. I got hungry at weird times, sometimes got really tired, or got a bad headache. You are very much living in two different time zones at once. Had my exchange been with a school with an even larger time difference, I’m sure it would have been more complicated. The reason this isn’t an issue on a real exchange is because even though you may be operating on a different time than the country you’re in, everyone else is not and eventually you get used to it. Doing an in-person exchange, you physically attend class and there’s not really a way to accidentally sleep through them. However, on a virtual exchange all you have to do is forget to set an alarm and you can easily miss your morning class, which I may have done one or twice.

I did not to get to see Peru because I wasn’t there to go places and my hosts were under lockdown so they couldn’t even give me a virtual tour. My exchange buddies and I did get to compare our countries though. We found out that they are pretty different, but there were a couple of similarities. We had multiple Zoom calls during the exchange in which we talked and played some games. It is very easy to stay in contact with my new friends from exchange because digital communication was already our only means of communication. Every possible kink has already been worked out.

I really enjoyed the whole experience of going on a virtual exchange and I think it is a good way for people to go on exchange. Part of the reason I jumped on the opportunity is because my family does not have much room to host an exchange student, but I always wanted to go because I thought it would be really cool. The virtual exchange, though some elements were more difficult or lost, was a lovely experience. Unfortunately for my family, I now want to go on an in-person exchange even more. I am going to be begging them to do it as soon as I get the opportunity again.

Leo Marek’s Virtual Exchange

As I reflect upon my time as a virtual exchange student at Markham College, my experience seems defined by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Peru has been on strict lockdown beginning March 16th and many students have not been able to leave their houses in months. Because of this, the pandemic was on everybody’s mind. It was not only central to conversations with students, but present in course materials as well. This made for interesting differences from a more traditional in-person exchange.

Foremost, nobody socializes as they would normally. There were many Zoom meetings, but the medium is a far cry from the constant in-person interaction that defines a traditional exchange. This made the exchange feel more distanced, but feeling distant is inherent to virtual learning.

On the other hand, there was a sense of unity as the pandemic and surrounding measures built common ground as we all were experiencing similar things. While we currently have more freedom than the Peruvian students, the isolation that we are experiencing is much the same.

These aspects are just a snapshot of the unique experience that is virtual exchange. While it certainly isn’t a full substitute for an in-person exchange, I would highly encourage going on virtual exchange as you will make global connections and learn about yourself, nonetheless.

Cecilia Bersamin’s Virtual Exchange in Peru

My name is Cecilia, and I went on a virtual exchange to Lima Peru “with” my buddy Isa. It was a perfect match. We immediately bonded over TikTok, baking, cooking, sports, school, even Covid-19, sharing our frustration and quarantine activities. We cooked together over Zoom and watched a movie together. We also had most of our classes together, so we got to work on slides in breakout rooms, and she was able to introduce me to lots of other girls. She was the best buddy I could have asked for, always making sure I had the material for class, the links, the correct times.

img_4455As for my classes, the teachers did a great job welcoming and introducing me to everyone. They always made sure to fill me in on content I had missed, which was very helpful. The classes I participated in were child development, biology, physics, history, and history of Peru. One challenge in the history of Peru class was that it was taught in Spanish, but I was able to observe the teacher’s screen and gain some context. In a lot of my classes the teachers would put us in breakout rooms to research different topics, which I really enjoyed because I would usually be with my buddy and 1-2 other girls. I learned a lot about ecosystems, childbirth, China and Japan’s history, and kinetic energy.

My favorite class was one day at 6:30 am. Our teacher let us start the class by introducing ourselves and asking questions about Peru or California. At the beginning it was regular questions about school, coronavirus, etc., but then we started to be bold. We bonded over the topic of boys, TikTok, junk food, and more. It was interesting to hear about how different it is going to an all-girls school, and they were intrigued to hear about me attending a co-ed school. After about 30 minutes with the conversation flowing, Miss Ines let us save the work for next class and keep talking.

It was easier than I expected to form friendships over Zoom. I thought it would be awkward and tough to find a conversation topic, but it was super easy to start with basic questions and then let the conversation take its own course. I am super excited to meet them one day in person, and I know we will stay in touch!  

Megan Williams arrives in Bogota

After picking up my bag from baggage claim, I turned around and saw my host, Gaby, and her dad, Camilo. It had been exactly a year since I hosted Gaby at Athenian and we were both so excited to see each other again. On our way home, we stopped at one of the only bagel stores in Bogota (since Gaby knows how much I love bagels), and then to the apartment that I now call home. One of the first things I noticed was how aggressive the driving is here. Despite it being 6:30 AM, there was already a significant amount of traffic and drivers honking every two minutes. 

The day after my arrival in Bogota, my host family and I hopped on another plane to the beautiful Caribbean coast of Colombia. We stayed in the old city of Cartagena for one week. This was a very peaceful and relaxing way for me to assimilate into Colombian culture and get to know my host family. Some of my favorite memories from Cartagena were walking around the old city to get ice cream or pastries with Gaby and Lucas, her younger brother. 

After an amazing week in Cartagena, we flew back and began school at Colegio Los Nogales. After an early 5:00 AM wake-up and an hour commute to school, I was immediately greeted by my exchange mentor, Paula, and by the other exchange students, Kelly and Ingrid (from Beijing and Denmark). My host introduced me to all of her friends during recess and we all got along so well. Everyone at Nogales is so welcoming and helpful, which made it very easy for me to make friends and feel comfortable. 

On the weekends, we usually drive to other parts of Bogota to go shopping or have lunch. Some of my favorite places are Boho, which has many cute cafes and flea-market stands, and Andino, which is similar to Walnut Creek. Last weekend, I went with the other exchanges to a country house in Cajica, which is about two hours away from Bogota. We had a barbeque and fondue and spent a lot of time playing with Salma’s dogs. The country house was near a forest and had breathtaking views of the mountains. 

At the time I am writing this, my exchange is about halfway over. I am very excited to see what is in store for these next few weeks.

Marta Wilbrink’s Time in Australia

I had known for months that I was going on exchange. I had completely accepted the reality of living in a foreign country without my family for more than a month. I had been on community service and Round Square trips without my parents before, so I thought I was thoroughly prepared for whatever was coming my way. Going onto the escalator up to the security line at LAX, however, was like taking a giant leap of faith. It was hard for me to go because I didn’t know what was there waiting for me. That particular moment taught me a lot about taking risks. I just have to dive right in and take the plunge – it might be worth it. In this case, it certainly was.

Despite my moment of panic in security, the journey to Melbourne was uneventful. The grueling 16-hour flight passed quickly with the help of plenty of movies. Australian customs was also a breeze – because I was unaccompanied and under 16 I went in a separate line that took less than 10 minutes. I took a deep breath before walking out of the security area, all three bags in hand. When I saw my host, Annie, waiting for me, I was so overjoyed to finally be reunited with my best friend from Australia.

The view from our house on the farm.

Immediately after meeting her family, we packed my bags in the car and began the long ride home. Annie and her family live on a farm two hours outside of Melbourne and an hour outside the nearest city, Ballarat. It was shocking for me to live on a farm so far away from a city. I’m used to biking 5 minutes to pick up groceries; however, I got used to living on a farm. I learned that sometimes a commute to school or the grocery store is worth it for the amazing experience of living surrounded by beautiful countryside.

The Sixteen Apostles, a stop on the Great Ocean Road

The day after I arrived, we packed up our things, and began a road trip along the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road felt like the Highway One of Australia, complete with breathtaking views of the coast and charming towns all along the way. This was a great opportunity to get to know my host family before school started in a week.

Abbey and I in front of one of the school buildings.

Going to school for the first time was incredibly difficult. I was really scared to go into an environment where I knew absolutely no one. Annie and I were in different year-levels. She introduced me to a few people in my grade and helped me with my schedule, but besides that, I was on my own. I learned a lot in the first few days of term–about being outgoing and persevering through tough situations. By the end of my first week, I had many friends and knew a lot about Australia and the differences between their schools and Athenian.

Me and my sheep at the sheep showing competition.

In Australia, not only are the course selections different, but so are the ways that school is structured. One of the unique opportunities I had at Ballarat Grammar was to take an Agriculture class, which is a standard course offering in Australia. In Vet Ag, I learned about farm management as well as about buying and selling sheep. In our practicals, I had the amazing experience of working on the school farm every Thursday, participating in a “Sheep Showing Competition,” and witnessing a lamb birth.

Another thing that was different about Australian school was that each student is placed in a house once they enter year 7. It reminded me a lot of Hogwarts because each house has its own uniform for certain days and a crest complete with a fancy Latin motto. My school had 12 different houses, each one of them in pairs of brother-sister houses. From years 7-12, students participate in many activities and competitions in their houses. As I experienced, there is a lot of house spirit and everyone gets quite competitive. While I was attending Grammar, they held an annual house competition called Chorales. Brother-sister houses do a singing and dance routine to an assigned song, performing in front of the whole school. Everyone was required to participate, including me. Our song was “Funky Town” and we won first place!

Me at the Ballarat Wildlife Park

On the weekends, Annie and I would try to jam in as much time together as possible. While we spent a lot of time doing typical tourist things–going to the Wildlife Park to pet kangaroos and koalas–some of the things I enjoyed the most came from just being with her as she went through her day-to-day life. I would come to her Netball games (an Australian sport that’s like basketball but with the rules of ultimate Frisbee) and then we’d stay and watch part of the neighboring Footie game. Or, we’d spend an afternoon on the farm riding motorcycles and checking out the shearing shed. These are the moments I treasure the most, because it’s such a unique experience only exchange could have given me. Because I wasn’t a tourist, I had many other opportunities and I was able to see the country in a different way. Australia is not all about the accent and the bizarre marsupials. Australian people really have a strong spirit and connection to their country that you can only really understand by living there.

Annie and I at Pylon Lookout.

By August 16, my trip was coming to a close. I had already bid adieu to all of my incredible school friends, and only had one weekend left with my host family. I was heartbroken that exchange had come to pass so quickly; however, we made the most of our last weekend together. We took a plane up to Sydney and had the time of our lives exploring the city. From the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House to the gorgeous coastline around Bondi Beach, Sydney really had it all.

My last day was so emotional for me. It was so hard to reckon with the fact that I was actually leaving Australia–my home away from home–and my second family. I know that I will be back as soon as possible to visit my amazing friends and family. I will forever cherish my time in Australia, and all the little moments that brought me so much joy.

Mark Michelini’s Time in Germany

I have arrived here in Germany! From the time I arrived until now, time has flown by very quickly. It has already been three weeks since getting off the plane in Munich. It has been quite the experience so far. I have met so many new faces, gone to many places, and have adjusted to the boarding culture at Schule Schloss Salem, something drastically different than being a day student at Athenian.

The most difficult aspect of my trip so far has been the language barrier. There have been several occasions where it has been challenging to interact with the German students. If they are all together as a group, they often aren’t interested in speaking in English. It does make friendship more difficult, but usually one or two of them in the group will talk with me in English. Luckily, I have found a lot of students in the English system that I have become great friends with. I wish I had used Duolingo before I left for exchange.

The environment in the school is much stricter than Athenian. All devices must to be turned in each night at 9:30 pm until the next day after lessons are over. We usually get them back around 2:15 or 4:00 pm depending on the length of the school day. It is definitely something to get used to coming from the relaxed phone culture at Athenian. The phone policy feels nice after a while to simply interact without the distraction of phones and live in the moment. They have a silencium each day for two minutes during lunch, where students and teachers must be quiet while eating. Also, all students are woken up each morning at six-thirty for a morning run. It is a tradition where everyone must run for about five minutes outside before getting ready for school. It is such a rude awakening, but it does get the blood flowing and makes me less tired. In reality, it is probably not that strict, just coming from relaxed Athenian.

Students come mainly from all over Europe and Asia, and even the U.S, representing a broad range of nationalities. It’s unlike Athenian, where the majority of students are local except for the small number of boarders.

When I first arrived, the weather here contrasted to the sunny California climate. It was pouring rain and cold here for many days, which had me missing home. My spring tan had quickly faded. At the beginning of June, it luckily turned sunny and warm. Many of us swam in the local lake and ate ice cream to cool us down.

The food here in Baden-Württemberg, which is the German state I am in, I will definitely miss. Sausages and meat are the main cuisine. One of my favorites is “Currywurst mit pommes,” which is sausage covered in a delicious red sauce and French fries on the side. It’s so good and I have had it many times. All of the traditional food is quite heavy.

At my last day in Salem, there was a massive alumnus gathering of about 1,000 people. One of the school’s buildings was transformed into a dining hall to serve dinner to all of these people. It was the job of the students to serve dinner to those adults who used to attend Salem. I decided to help out as I had nothing else to do and since all of my friends would be participating. It ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Germany. It was chaos as about fifty students with their serving plates navigated through a jam-packed sea of alumni. When I was serving, I felt like a fish going against the current. It was overwhelming serving and cleaning up after them. However, it was incredibly interesting to me to watch all of these wealthy people going crazy and screaming German words I didn’t understand at each other. The vibe was like an over-the-top bachelor or bachelorette party. The dinner looked fantastic, and the students were able to eat the leftovers. All of these alumni were invited because they had donated a certain amount of money to the school.

After my time at the school ended, I found myself so grateful for the experience I had, yet a little disappointed. I wanted more of my exchange experience. I only went to school for three and a half weeks. That’s a short time for exchange. My time at Salem was amazing, yet I think if I was there for a few more weeks I could have gotten much closer with the friends and made a lot more memories with them. Other than that, this experience has been something I will never forget. I had so much fun with everyone there and it was a nice change from going to school at Athenian. It’s so cool to stay in touch with friends across the world. Another of my friends lives in New York City, which is much easier to get to than Germany.

After Salem, there was a two-week holiday. My exchange partner and I traveled to Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. These are the three biggest cities in Germany. Since Olivia Ghorai was on also on exchange at the same time in Hamburg, I was actually able to meet up with her for an hour. We both talked about our exchange experiences and how it felt to be in a completely foreign place. It was a lot of fun to be with somebody that lives so close to you, yet see them across the world.

Now, as I write this, I am about an hour-and-a-half from landing in San Francisco. It makes me sad that this experience has come to an end. But I am excited to live my life in California in a different way, having grown from this exchange program and become more confident in myself. I hope to visit Germany next year and see Yannick again. We’ve become much closer friends and laughed a lot together. I will miss annoying each other and all of our inside jokes. His family was so amazing and kind to me. I will definitely stay in touch with them.

Lucy Sparks Mendez Comes Home From Argentina

I’m writing this is on US soil, so maybe it’s cheating, but I’ve only been in the United States 34 hours. I honestly expected coming back to the monotony of home to feel like a letdown after being surrounded by novelty and intrigue and challenge for a month, but I was surprised. It felt good to come home. Driving through LA–I flew from Buenos Aires to LA, had breakfast with family, and then flew on to Oakland–after landing felt like visiting my grandparent’s house as a kid. I don’t know how to describe it better than that. 

Pulling into my driveway didn’t feel as jarring as I thought it would, just like I was back after a road trip for a week or two. Seeing my family felt good. My sister ran and hugged me in the driveway, refusing to let me go for several moments. My bed felt amazing. There’s something about your own sheets and comforter and pillows. Nothing else will ever really measure up.

In terms of the last week of exchange, I’d say what I felt more than anything was just wanting to stay for longer. I missed my family the most the first weekend and the last weekend. But, I was really sad to leave Buenos Aires as I was just beginning to make friends. I was also sick the last two days of school, so I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone from school. I did say goodbye to my host, and that was sad for both of us. We plan to keep in touch. 

The adjustment to home so far has been good. It has started to feel normal pretty quickly. School starts tomorrow, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t give you my assessment until after that. 

Cooper Jacobus reports from India

First Day Recommendations:

If you go on exchange to the Doon School, the first thing I recommend you do after taking your bag to your room is to get a uniform. I found that this was an important step for two reasons. First, you will feel much less out of place once you have a uniform. Chances are, when you arrive, you will still be wearing whatever you wore on the plane, while the rest of the boys are required to arrive already in uniform. This will make you feel even more out of place than you would normally. You will feel much less obtrusive once you have a uniform. Second, your clothes are likely not a fit for the climate, while the uniform is. If it is hot when you arrive, you will want to put on something breathable, which the uniform surprisingly is.

Once you have gotten yourself a uniform and unpacked, you should introduce yourself to your roommates. You will likely be in a room with four other boys, one of whom will be your exchange partner and you will have to get to know the other three. These will be the boys who will look after you and make sure you are doing alright. They can only do this if you get to know them.


Seniority is everything. Older boys have the power to make younger boys their servants. Younger boys will have to wake up early with alarms so that they can get dressed before going upstairs to gently wake the older boys. They also distribute snacks at night to the older boys while they are studying. If they fail to do this in any way (skip a room in the morning, wake someone up too violently, forget a person when distributing snacks, etc.), the older boys will punish them by making them hold a push-up position for as long as they feel is necessary. Younger boys will be expected to yield to older boys in any situation. They will be very confused if, for example, you do not cut them in a line.

Academic Culture:

One of the most interesting things about the Doon School is the culture built around academics. The school is the absolute best in the entire country, which means that it intrinsically attracts students who are academically motivated and then only selects a choice few of those who are especially capable. Thus, all the students who attend must be distinctly smart and academically motivated. Once inside it is apparent, however, that the reputation of the school precedes the characteristics and motivations of the student body. In an obvious attempt to address this issue, the administration tries to fabricate more academic motivation in the following ways:

  • All grades, marks, scores, etc. are 100% public to anyone who wants to see them at any time regardless of relation. Rankings of students are posted in the classroom and are attached to report cards. This is designed to make the top boys feel competitive for the best spot and to shame those who fall to the bottom, so that all boys feel more motivated to do better than their peers.
  • The Average Grades on standard tests by class are posted on the doors of the teacher’s classroom, so that it is obvious which teacher’s classes do best on tests. This similarly encourages the teachers to compete and thus to spend class time pressuring their students to study harder rather than teaching the material.
  • Houses compete for the best overall grades. Even if pressure from your teacher and yourself is not enough to motivate you, you will be pressured by your peers in your house to do well.

This is very effective. Students care A LOT about receiving High Marks.

NOTE: They score with a similar system of Letters (A* instead of A+) except that everything is shifted down. In a math class, it might be something like A* = 100-90%, A = 90-80%, B = 80-70%, C = 70-60, D = 60-50%. I am unsure if this is a kind of grade inflation or if the grading is just harsher in general to make up for this.

Food Notes:

Food is safe. Somethings which you think will be spicy (like chicken) will be plain. Nothing is guaranteed.

What I found more interesting than the local food, however, were the foreign foods. They apply their own tastes to foods from the US and China: pizza usually has chicken, chow mein is spicy, etc. This is especially notable in non-American foreign foods. This strikes me as evidence that we in the US also do this (which we already knew). If we are also changing the food from its original, then to go from the American adaptation to the Indian is two degrees of separation instead of one. This idea suggests the existence of a kind of feedback loop where a food could be exported, changed, imported, changed, exported, and so on. This happens with a lot of Mexican food. This also allows for repeat parodies, like Indian pizza, which is an adaptation of American pizza, which is an adaptation of Italian pizza.

Curriculum Notes:

At Doon, they study a lot of the same things we do at Athenian. I was able to wander into Physics, Chemistry, and Math classes and keep up with no extra effort. They hang posters about the American Revolutionary War in their History rooms. They offer Spanish classes. They study authors like Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in their Literature Classes. The only distinct difference in the general curriculum was Economics. They offer Economics as a year-round class from 10th through 12th grade. Many students take it for all three years. I took this class. I have to say that it seems like very valuable knowledge and that there is too much for our new seminars to be able to fully cover.

Religion and Spirituality:

IMPORTANT NOTE: I was born Christian and technically identify as Atheist and this will inform my analysis.

The other exchanges and I attended a religious ceremony on the bank of the Ganges River in nearby Rishikesh. There were many differences between the prayer there and common prayer in a Christian church in the US: Polytheism, Dress, Language, etc. What I found most interesting, however, transcends those more appearance-like aspects of the spirituality. To draw this distinction, I will again compare to the traditional American Christian church. A common church in the United States is arranged such that there is a podium in front at which a religious figure preaches and receives prayer from the audience as a representative of ‘God.’. I call this method of expressing spiritual devotion “indirect” as you pray to something which is abstract and because the sacrifice you make is generally monetary (indirect in its own regard) and is lost once it leaves your hands. In direct contrast to the American Christian church, the Hindu religious ceremony I attended was designed such that everyone (attendees, priests, musicians, etc.) was sitting together on the same stage, all facing towards the water (the actual, real-life, physical embodiment of the divine). In this regard, the ceremony is one of more community – the religious leaders sit next to the average attendee and do not preach but rather guide the prayer, a prayer that they do not receive but rather encourage. The sacrifice made here is not monetary but takes the form of fire given to the river on hand-sized boats. I call this more “direct” because the community prays together directly to the divine embodiment. There is no middle man and there is no disconnect between the devotees and the aspect of their devotion. I feel that this distinction is rather profound, because the average person is much more spiritual/religious, which I attest to this.

While in Delhi, I visited several religious places, including a Mosque, a Sikh Temple, multiple Hindu Temples, and a Bahá’í Temple. The Sikh Temple serves free meals 22 hours a day and has a pond with holy fish (which you apparently can’t pet). One Hindu Temple has an amusement park containing animatronic nativities and an indoor boat ride/exhibit depicting the lives of religious figures. The Bahá’í Temple is shaped like a massive nine-pedal lotus. The Bahá’í religion is interesting. It concludes that prophets and holy messengers from other religions like Jesus, Abraham, Mohamed, Krishna, Buddha, etc. (notably not Joseph Smith) are all representatives of the same God and are carrying effectively the same message. Because of this, they are very accepting to basically any faith that enters their temple as they believe in a portion of the Bahá’í faith.

There is a sort of comradery between faiths. Many people respect each other for their beliefs as there is a lot commonality between them. In the same regard, many are confused or offended by the concept of atheism. It contradicts their faith in more ways than other faiths because it doesn’t make sense that someone would not have something to believe in.


The Emporium – Every driver in Delhi tried to convince us to go to this place called the Emporium. Some drivers we found were even waiting on street corners for tourists to pass by so they could walk beside them to earn their trust and casually mention the Emporium. (Most are pretty good. They walk in front of you so you don’t think you’re being followed and offer assistance like “now’s the time to cross the street.”) One driver was honest and said something like “they have good handicraft and give me a gas voucher if I bring tourists” so we went with him and they gave him a voucher proportional to how much we spent.

Bracelets – Many of the boys in my form wear these silver bracelets. This seemed odd to me because I think of bracelet-wearing as a feminine thing and noticed that the boys who did tended to be the more masculine ones. I learned later that the bracelets function as a weapon. They can be taken off and used as a kind of brass knuckle. I never saw or heard about these ever actually being used; however if you know what they are, they work as a pretty good ‘don’t mess with me’ fashion item.

Teachers ask, “any doubts?” instead of “any questions?” to which students almost never respond. At first this struck me as a challenge, like, “Do you doubt my lecture?” I now think it more of a symptom of an overall culture of not asking questions because you do not want to appear stupid.

Ethan Monk’s time in South Africa

After living in Johannesburg for six weeks, I can confidently say that the memories and lasting sense of culture were well worth 48 hours of round-trip travel and a month and a half away from home. Arriving in Johannesburg and being met by my host family, the Bremners, I was immediately thrown into the fascinating cultural chaos that is South Africa.

After a day to recuperate at my new home, school began immediately for me at St Stithian’s College (Stithian being a Saint I’m positively sure Johannesburg pulled out of thin air) where I was greeted by a thousand-strong student body of blazer-clad students in the freezing (literally) morning air. With this many students, even in my sixth week I found myself having to introduce myself as “the new exchange student from America” at a school that otherwise felt surprisingly similar to Athenian. The dress code was strict, and Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans may have been language options, but the similarity in curriculums and most classes was uncanny. After school, I often found myself watching a rugby game or a cricket match at home with my host family. On the weekends, I occasionally found myself at one of Saint’s rugby or cricket games where the crowd was encouraged to sing and yell in broken half Zulu-half English at the opposing team in what they call a “war cry.”

Cape Town from atop Table Mountain

One weekend I was lucky enough to visit Cape Town with my host family. I was shown a wonderful city that I found quite different than Johannesburg. Cape Town is more international than the culturally-confined Johannesburg, as well as more scenic. Cape Town was built from the ocean’s edge up into the mountains that Johannesburg sits on top of–700 miles away and 4,000 feet above Cape Town’s ocean front promenade. And while Cape Town was built into the natural valleys and hills of the Cape, Johannesburg was thrown on top of the ever-so-flat Highveld, the miles and miles of grassland above Cape Town (think Nebraska but with ostriches). That fleeting change of scenery made the walks on the oceanfront promenade and the hikes up the Cape’s vast mountains even more special. My host family also took me on a short boat trip to Robben Island, the prison that was used to house political inmates throughout the historical period of apartheid, where an Afrikaaner party used a political majority to hold down and segregate the country’s Black population.

Another week I was treated to a four-day stay in the Kruger Park, a seven-hour drive from Johannesburg. On game drives, I saw animals such as giraffes, leopards and elephants. At night, we routinely had to chase hyenas away from our barbecues. Here, I was also introduced to the African foods pap, which I was pleased to learn I could eat with my hands, and biltong (think beef jerky but worse), which most people in Johannesburg treat more patriotically than their flag. Every day we woke up early and went on a game drive before returning to our zero-emissions house to retreat from the afternoon’s blazing heat.

In between these two fantastic vacations, I found myself waking up daily at 5 am, tiredly looking forward to attending my classes for the day. I hung out with two Jordanian exchange students and small group of Saint’s boys I befriended. While I took slightly fewer classes than the regular Saint’s student (the school graciously allowed me to customize my schedule), I always looked forward to attending my several South African and world history classes. There I learned more about apartheid, the Rwandan genocide, and African history and politics than I ever could have hoped to learn in the United States.

In between classes, the connections I made with my fellow exchange students and students at Saints were transformative. The conversations we had over the best two-dollar coffee I’d ever had will always stick with me. I’m still in contact with some of these students today. While I was initially apprehensive when signing up for the exchange program, this experience is one I would gladly repeat.

Michael Salako is in Tasmania

I originally never wanted to go on exchange. It was my mom who persisted and basically ended up making me go. I always thought it was way too much work and a waste of time. To make things worse, in December I found out that I didn’t even get my first choice, which was Latin America. I opened my email to see that I would be on my way to Tasmania in July, to Scotch Oakburn College. At that point I didn’t even have the energy to be disappointed anymore. I was being forced to go to school across the world.

Fast forwarding to the day I left, there were somewhat negative thoughts running through my head. All I could think was “Let me just get this over with.” Although I hate plane rides, the 13-hour flight to Melbourne wasn’t bad. Once the plane landed I checked in, got my suitcases and wandered around the airport since I had an eight-hour layover until my next flight. Once I was on the next flight and we were nearly in Launceston, the city I would be staying in, I couldn’t stop staring out the window. I saw miles of flatland, animals almost everywhere you looked, and beautiful water surrounding the island of Tasmania. The plane touched down, I got my bags, met my exchange, Dean, and his mom, who made up my host family, and we made our way to the car. I had my first shock as we got in. I was confused as I saw her walking over to the right side of the car, I got a little nervous because I thought she wanted me to drive. I got in and saw that there was no steering wheel on the left, and I stared in amazement to see it on the opposite side.

We got to the small house meant for two people, I unpacked my stuff and then immediately pulled up a calendar to count the days until I was back in the US. I found myself doing this for the first few weeks, but I slowly started to stop as time went on. It took me a while, but as I went to bed I realized that I was there, in Australia, over 9,000 miles away from home. I thought to myself that it was going to be a long and tiring six weeks.

I arrived on Friday afternoon and there was no school on Monday, so I had three days until the start of the school term. On Saturday, Dean and I went to Cataract Gorge, one of Tasmania’s oldest tourist attractions. I saw some amazing scenery and animals I had never seen before. The next day Dean took me on a tour of Launceston.  We walked all around the small city, home to only 67,000 people, and we went to all the main landmarks of the city.

On Monday, we went to Scotch Oakburn College to get my uniform. I got to see the school I’d be attending for the next six weeks. There was a slow buildup of anxiety as the day went on. I wasn’t really worried about classes or about making friends. I was worried about the stares. During the school year before summer, people were constantly telling me about how there was pretty intense racism mainly towards black people in Australia. I let this influence how I viewed people early on, and I thought that this would just make school life even harder.

The first day of school rolled around and I could feel the stares as soon as I stepped on campus. I wasn’t sure if they were staring because of my skin or because I was an unfamiliar student, so I kept the judging to a minimum. Little did I know that those were just stares of curiosity, and that those same people would show me an endless amount of kindness over the next six weeks.

Dean and I made it to our first class of the day, Japanese. He introduced me to everyone, and the hour-and-40-minute class period began. It was weird because I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying although they spoke in English from time to time, so I basically just sat there spaced out until it was over. Next we had a 20-minute break in which Dean introduced me to a couple of his friends, and we talked until the next class started. Not much happened in the class

After the class ended, we made our way over to assembly, which is just like morning meeting. They went through some announcements, a couple of people gave speeches, and eventually the exchange director called all the exchanges to the front to be introduced to the whole school. I went up with Dean and I was excited to see the other people who would be going on this experience with me. When I got up to the front I looked to my left and saw just one other girl, who wasn’t even an exchange. Her exchange was having problems getting to Tasmania and didn’t show up throughout all the time that I was here. So I was Scotch Oakburn’s only exchange for the next six weeks.

Lunch was right after. Towards the end of it a huge group of guys came up to me. They immediately started launching questions left and right. “Do you play basketball? Do you watch the NBA? Who’s your favorite team,” and other questions like that. Someone even asked me if I was related to Michael Jordan, and I’m pretty sure he was serious. To be honest, I was relieved to know that they love basketball over here. The next day at around the same time, I saw the same guys playing basketball outside. As I saw them, somebody came up to me and asked if me if I wanted to join. I said yeah and went out to play. While we were in the middle of a game, some of the guys asked me if I could dunk. I told him I could. It took me a couple of attempts, but I got one to go down and all the guys went crazy. They started yelling and running around and all I could do was laugh. As I was on my way to the last class of the day, people started walking up to me and asking me if I could really dunk and some other basketball questions. Although it wasn’t how I planned to do it, I was already making new friends and connections. I didn’t realize it at that moment, but that was the first time I had fun since leaving the US.

The school days that followed were fun and full of surprises. I met new people, learned a lot of new things, and participated in some really cool school events, like their peace festival and singing carnival. Classes took some getting used to. A lot of them are full of disruptive and loud kids who don’t really seem to care about their grades, but there are some responsible kids who do. On the weekends my host family took me to places all over Launceston. We watched an AFL game, toured Sydney, and I even got to play in the basketball tournament that Scotch Oakburn was participating in.

My time in Australia has been amazing. I’ve gotten to do and see things that I probably never would have if I hadn’t gone on exchange. When I look back on it, it’s hard to believe that I didn’t want to go on exchange. If not for my mom, who made me go, or for the fact that I wasn’t sent to South America, I would not have had as amazing of an experience as I’ve had here in Tasmania. To anyone who’s hesitating to go on exchange, or if you don’t feel like going on exchange at all, I strongly encourage you to give it a chance. I used to want nothing to do with exchange at all, but I ended up loving every single day of it. I leave in two days, and while I’m sad to go, I’m also a little happy to be returning home. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of what Tasmania has to offer, and I’m hoping that one day I’ll be back to see it all again.