New world, new self: Exchange students come back

By Isabella Castellanos Joa, Staff Intern

As senior Delaney Staples was walking down the streets of the beautiful city of Adana, Turkey, she realized how much she was going to miss everything, from the unusual tall apartments in the middle of rural areas to the warm tea sold in the Ozsut Coffee shop. 

She had spent one year studying there as an exchange student and was now heading back to Florida after living nine months in a place different both in culture and language. Staples had found herself amazed by the beauty of discovering and learning about new lifestyles, including her new way of living. 

“When everything is different, you become someone different,” she said. “This truly broadened my horizons.” 

Cultural adaptation, the learning of a new language, and the foundation of new relationships have all been part of the complex but life-changing experience students Staples, Keily Delgado and Nevaeh Cabrera went through as international exchange students last year. 

All located in different parts of the map, these students had to deal with all of the adversities international traveling brings, including adapting to the cultural shock. 

“Personally, at first, I had problems assimilating the culture,” Staples said. “But I kind of  pushed myself to approach anyone, despite looks.”

For Delgado, who was in Japan, understanding the culture was a different story. 

“In Japan, they have very different cultures and customs,” she said. “But the fact that Japanese people have pride in sharing their culture and don’t mind others embracing it, made my transition smoother.” 

Being able to adapt to distinct cultures and lifestyles requires the ability to communicate with others. Students had a variety of previous knowledge about the language of these countries.

“Turns out, I knew a lot less than I thought,” Delgado said. “I was scared I wouldn’t learn the language and wouldn’t be able to make any friends.”

Staples had a similar fear.

“Because of the language barrier, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to manage school work,” Staples said.

For Cabrera, who went to Finland, one thing stood out to her the most during her academic experience. 

“As difficult as it may have been, teachers were always there to help you,” she said. “They would schedule personal meetings for you to do the work with them.”

And despite every inch of difficulty in their experiences, all students shared the same thought in regards to their voyage in The Rotary Youth Exchange program: “It’s all worth it.” 

“There is so much to learn out there!” Staples said. “This experience helped me embrace change instead of fearing it.” 

In addition to learning about another aspect of the world, travelers also discovered new aspects about themselves.  

“I gained a lot of independence during the trip,” Cabrera said. “It changed the way I reacted to things and my priorities.” 

Cabrera emphasized the importance of being “thrown into the unknown” to grow as a person.  

Unfortunately, this year The Youth Rotary Exchange program won’t be available because of the global pandemic. However, Jeff Williams, magnet coordinator, has seen the value of experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“Most of the students have never been that far away from home, especially for a whole year! and when they come back, they are an entirely new person,” he said. “More importantly, they have a newfound confidence in them.”

Posted: Oct. 21

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