Through the Lens of an Exchange Year
Exchange student from Turkey taking photos for Wisconsin high school

Looking in from the outside

I arrived at my host family’s house the night before school. I settled in, unpacked some stuff, wrote in my diary, and went to bed. It was my first day of school the next day. Everything was so new, different, and strange. I missed the opening week of school, so I put my head down to get up to speed with things as soon as possible.

The vastly different lifestyle of American people and this massive exposure to American culture and language made me constantly try to observe and adapt. It was hard in the first couple of weeks since I felt like a stranger most of the time. However, as a little bit of time passed and things started to get more routine I really made progress in this regard.

It was hard in the first couple of weeks since I felt like a stranger most of the time.

Now, I feel like I’m starting to enter the routine life of an American high school student. I am happy with how things are going in and outside of school. The things that seemed strange at first now make more sense and I see the fun and enjoyment in them.

As the initial stress decreased, I pointed my focus more toward socializing and seeking opportunities to contribute during my exchange year. For example, I joined the school’s yearbook staff as a photographer, which is one of my biggest passions. I now photograph events going on at school.

I’m already my photography teacher’s right hand. This makes me happy, because I see that I can join things and be a part of them. Not making the soccer team doesn’t change this fact. I know I am not equally good at everything. Even though I did not make the team, I’ve shown myself that I have other strengths. This reminds me of my own value and that I am capable.

Everyone is bright and talented in their own way, and even the bravery of being an exchange student is a commitment not everybody could make. I encourage students to trust in themselves, continue to be the ever-unique person they are, and not be afraid of showing up. As much as we will take home from our exchange, we have things to give, too.

—Kivanc (YES, Turkey), hosted by the Graff family (WI)