Dear American Councils staff,
I have been delaying to write to you because I have no idea how to put everything in words, which is ironic because I always thought I was good with words, it was one of my talents. Yet, here I am, having no clue how to tell you how grateful I am to you, my host family, and everyone else who made this possible for me. Everything that has happened in the last few months still feels unreal. I don’t think it will ever feel real.
It is very strange how people, who I didn’t even knew existed, in a town, that I have never heard of before, became so important and dear to me in such a short period of time. They accepted me for who I am. My host family made me feel at home instantly. They are amazing and they have done so much for me that I can never thank them enough. I love them so much.
The first few days were scary in school. They told us at the PDO that it is very possible that we are going to be placed in a small town with a small school and that we maybe even the only exchange student ever to go to that school, but that was not the case. The first day I walked into a huge school with a few thousand students. It was terrifying, so many kids everywhere and no one noticed me. It’s amazing how just in a month some of those unfamiliar faces in the crowds became familiar. My school is very culturally diverse. There are many exchange students, Mexicans, Americans, and kids from other nationalities, races, and so on. Everyone is so open-minded and accepting. I have never felt this accepted for being different and unique, even in my home country.
Of course I feel a little bit homesick, but honestly I don’t even have time to stop and think about home and being homesick. I have seen so many places and done so many amazing things I could have never done back home. The school offers so many amazing opportunities like archery (which I always wanted to do). My school is filled with amazing students and teacher who make everyday fun and entertaining. Here in the U.S. I take JROTC in school, which I never thought I would do. I never thought it would be this interesting and amazing. It really helped me understand American values more. I’ve learned that are Americans are very proud and patriotic, and I appreciate that even though I am a foreigner, they let me do some things that are considered a big honor for them; like saying the pledge on the morning announcements, participating in the flag retirement ceremony and the veterans day parade.
I also had an amazing time with all the volunteer opportunities, from events that made me feel very happy (like cooking for the less fortunate and helping to make Christmas great for kids that otherwise wouldn’t have Christmas) to very fun and entertaining volunteer opportunities (like working as a tour guide in a haunted house and working at a car wash). My host family took me to so many amazing places that I only dreamed about before and that I never thought I would get to see. I went camping at the Grand Canyon which was an amazing experience. I went to California to the cities I always dreamed about, like San Francisco and San Diego, and I even got to go to Disneyland for the first time. It still feels unbelievable that this has happened. Another amazing experience was going to a family wedding in Cincinnati. It was so beautiful, and I am so grateful I got to live through an American wedding, just like in the movies. I can never thank my host family enough for everything. They are not my host family, they ARE my family.
My local coordinator is also amazing and really devoted to us. She also took me and the other exchange students on amazing trips, like this weekend when we went to New Mexico. I got to see the White Sands which is unbelievable. I didn’t even know that a white desert exists and yet I saw it with my own eyes.
I have learned so much and my view of America and even the whole World has changed so much. I am definitely not the same person I was four months ago. Everything has changed, for the better!
This is such a long email and yet I didn’t even tell you most of my experience. I just wanted to thank you and wish you the best Christmas ever, because I know it will be for me. The year 2017 was incredible and unbelievable and I also hope you will have a great 2018! Hope all of you are doing great!
Kate Lopan (FLEX student from Ukraine) and Nevena at White Sands in New Mexico.