Let me tell you how I dared to start discovering the world, when everything began. When I was 18 years old and 3 months, and after one month of having finished high school, I started what I called “My first big trip”. When I was in third year, a teacher, specifically from Civic Education, told us about his cultural exchange to USA when he was young. Let’s clarify that in the 70s travelling was not SO easy as it is today. Nowadays, schools encourage students to participate in exchange programs or study trips abroad within the possibilities of each one, specifically to Europe. But before, it was not like that. My major school trip was a camping tour to Entre Rios, or to Bariloche during my graduation trip.
I had never left the country alone, so my family and acquaintances doubted that I could “survive” one year alone 15 thousand kilometers away from home.
One of my classmates had travelled to the Czech Republic for three months when we finished 4th year and before 5th. So, with everything she had told me, I was already prepared: I was the next one! (You can participate in this type of exchange for three months or 1 year, from the age of 15 to 18). In our case, we did it with Rotary Club. For my side, I preferred to finish high school first and travelling without the pressure of studying and taking exams from abroad.
The exchange consisted of living with a local family and going to school. In parallel, before or after the exchange, your family must “give back” what you received abroad, so someone will stay in your house and will go to your school or to another one from your neighborhood. The only thing that I had to pay for was the airplane ticket and a medical insurance. Families must take care of food. For their part, the Rotary gives you a monthly wage. In 2005, it was of 60 USD. They also invite you to a weekly dinner at the club. Trips organized by the country are also included; you pay the transportation fees in and out of your house and they are in charge of the rest (food, accommodation, tours). It is worth mentioning that when an exchange student arrives at your house, your family must be responsible for providing food.
I was nervous: the trip was 3 months away and I didn’t know what my home would be for the next year. Until one day, the answer was… Hungary. I basically had two options: USA and Hungary. United States seemed more “reachable”; I could go in some other occasion. My dream was travelling to Europe! So, you already know the answer.
A question everyone asks… “Do you speak Hungarian?”. I was “very good” at speaking the language. Now I forgot, but I can understand if they speak it and sometimes I can defend myself… but basic, very basic (don’t think I conjugate verbs, I have an “Indian style”).
It was a very gratifying experience. I lived in two houses in a Hungarian town near the border with Austria. I went to school: there I shared everyday with the family and at least once a month I participated in meetings with local people from the Rotary. We travelled together with other members of the exchange, mainly from USA, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Canada, who lived in other cities of Hungary. We also made an “Ecotour” with other ones in the exchange from various parts of Europe: it was a very enjoyable trip. In my group, we were all from Latin America; we set off from Liège city, in Belgium and we travelled around various countries from the center and East of Europe.
The positive thing is that you develop new skills: you deal with everything on your own and if you have any issue “you are more alone” than in your country, your parents are not there to help you and that makes you GROW.
So, you know: if you don’t dare to go alone as a “backpacker”, the “exchange” is a good option, because you will be “taken care of” and you will share with other people. I think that for a first experience it is a great opportunity.
I also recommend “Education First” (EF). They offer exchanges to the whole world and for all ages!