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Living in the USA

On Aug. 14, my USA adventure began. Saying goodbye to my friends and my parents and leaving my life in Belgium behind me were the hardest things to do, but also the best. As I prepared to leave Belgium, I was wondering how it would be to live far away and start a new life in the USA.

My first five months have flown by! During the first three and a half months, I lived with Susan and Chris Hearn and got to know Ashland. This family was amazing and we did so much!

I met many people through Ashland High School’s Fresh Start program. I traveled a lot: I went to different cities in Oregon and even a Ducks game! I went to California with the Hearns. We drove to San Luis Obispo, allowing me to swim for the first time in the Pacific Ocean. A few months later, an American friend invited me to spend a week in Los Angeles with her. We visited UCLA, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Disneyland and Hollywood.

School occupied most of my time. The school system is different than in Belgium. Here students start high school when they turned 14 years old; in Belgium, they start at 12. Here, freshmen and seniors can be in the same class here whereas in Belgium, we have class only with people of the same age and we are mostly with the same people through the year in all classes.

And then it was time to leave my first host family to go join my second one: Becky and Matt Sniffen. Like the Hearns, it took no time for the Sniffens to accept me and include me in every family activity. With them, I spent winter break in California. We toured San Francisco and visited Alcatraz, Lombard Street and the Golden Gate Bridge. We also saw the elephant seals in Año Nuevo State Park. I celebrated Christmas with my host mom’s family in the Bay Area which turned out to be amazing. And I got to open a Christmas stocking for the first time.

Rotary Exchange meetings are a big part of my exchange student life. Meeting people from 20 different countries is one of the best things of my year abroad! We have so much to say, so much to share and so much fun together. We are living the same experience, going through the same things. We all decided to do this adventure and to be the best ambassadors of our country.

There are also a lot of exchange students at AHS who have become friends. In addition, I have made many American friends, whose families have welcomed me into their lives. Being on the cheer team is fun and allowed me to meet even more people! The best part of having all of my classes with mixed grades is that I get to know lots of fellow students.

I have noticed that Americans “see in big” (a French expression meaning that everything is supersized). Costco is a great example! I’ve never been to such a big shop where you can only buy big quantities! Americans love driving; it’s normal to drive 10 hours round-trip in one day. In Oregon, nobody is allowed to get gas for the car themselves, which makes me think of my mom in Belgium, who would love that!

Americans are friendly, welcoming and, to my surprise, they really love Mexican food.

I’ll conclude by saying that in this country, there is always something to do, you just don’t have time to be bored!

Being an exchange student has changed my life. I’m feeling different, more grown up, more international, more independent, more social and more open to the world. I’ve learned to just enjoy every single moment and to take all the opportunities that are presented to you because it’s worth it. Doing this experience was undoubtedly the greatest decision and I have no regrets! I can’t wait to see what the next seven months bring!

Caroline Colard is an exchange student from Belgium studying at Ashland High School under the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Ashland.