Opinion: My exchange experience

Myself and Adrián before he left last Friday.

By Ethan Walshe

As you may have read before, last week twenty-one students from Zaragoza, Spain spent the week on an exchange program with students from Westford Academy. I was one of these students who had the opportunity to host someone from another country while they experienced the United States and the English language.

When they arrived late on the night of Friday, October 4, it was not as though I was meeting someone I knew nothing about. My partner, Adrián Flores Mateo and I had been communicating on Facebook over the summer and had gotten to know each other at least a little.

When the other American students and I saw the bus pull around the corner on Patten Road, there was a moment of elation as everyone very quickly became excited with the prospect of finally being face to face with someone who was going to live with them for a week and experience their lives in the US.

The week that followed after the arrival of the exchange students was probably one of the most eventful of my entire life. I had more of a social life than I think I ever cared to have.

There was a constant flow of events and activities. The first day they were here was entirely ours. We spent it meeting up with my friend Ian and going to Kimball’s – let’s be honest, you can’t come to Westford and not go to Kimball’s. I introduced Adrián to baseball and the local Witch’s Woods, which was fitting given the time of year. The next day everyone and their exchange students met at one of our houses for a big cookout, which was really the first chance for everyone to become acquainted. This spawned one of the more fun events of the week: Spaniards v. Americans soccer – it was a tie, despite what the Spaniards may say.

The Monday was Columbus Day and, since we did not have school, a trip into Boston to tour Fenway Park and the USS Constitution for a bit of American history and a slightly educational experience. In between these tours we had the chance to walk around Boston and Quincy Market. Since the Spaniards live in a city being in Boston wasn’t any kind of culture shock but it was a different kind of city and they seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Every day after that was spent in school. Adrián followed me around from class to class, meeting my friends and teachers and seeing what my school day was like. When there were other Spanish kids in the classes with me he had a more enjoyable experience than when there wasn’t one. I understand this though, as clearly something like psychology is going to be hard to understand if it’s being taught in a language you are still learning. But Adrián at least got to experience how an American school is run, and once he got over the shock of the 10:21 a.m. first lunch, he was fine.

When school was out, the entire time was spent doing things with my exchange student and everyone else’s students. I hung out with people I never thought that I would hang out with purely because their exchange students were good friends with mine. And I loved it. I met new people, both Spanish and American who I would like to continue to be friends with in the months that follow this whole experience.

I think this is because I had some kind of innate feeling in me that I needed to entertain Adrián, that every waking moment needed to be spent doing things so that he could truly experience small town America in a very short period of time.

My own experience was very positive; I have no complaints about it. Adrián was no trouble. The only thing I could even consider as being off-putting was at times I felt like he may have not been completely genuine with me out of the need to be polite since he was always “having a good time” or “was full” or “didn’t need anything else.”

Overall, I loved every minute of my time that was far too short with the exchange students. When they left this past Friday morning before school, there were many tears being shed by people from both Westford and Zaragoza. It seemed like we had just gotten to know each other when they suddenly had to leave.

I would greatly encourage anyone to take part in their respective exchange programs be it for German, French, or Spanish. I found it to be a greatly enriching. I think I learned more Spanish from the exchange students than I have in the first few weeks of school, no disrespect to Sra. Devlin. While the intention was for the students from Spain to be using their English here, obviously Spanish was spoken throughout the week and it’s that experience of being around the language all of the time that helps you to learn. Plus there are always things that wouldn’t come up in a curriculum that can be nice to know such as how to say “corner kick” – it’s patada de esquina, by the way.

Needless to say, I cannot wait until April to go to Spain and see all of these kids and Adrián again. If my Spanish improved by being around kids who were meant to be speaking English, I can only imagine what will happen to it when I’m immersed in the language.