As an exchange student in Virginia, USA

At the start of the year 2014 I decided to make a change in my life. This meant to become an exchange student in the United States of America for ten months. Being an exchange student on the other side of the Atlantic had always been my dream. The reasons why I decided to carry out this plan were to improve my English skills, live and learn from a different culture, meet other international students with similar interests to those of mine and get a unique and unforgettable experience which I would remember the rest of my life.

An organisation called ICES is the company in charge of choosing the state, high school and host family based on your interests, lifestyle and hobbies. Before the selection process was finished, I had to fill in several papers, do tests, have an interview, see the doctor and apply for a visa. I had a telephone interview in my mother tongue, I had a talk with my national coordinator.

A month before the journey to the other continent I was given the name of my town, Rustburg, the name of my high school, Rustburg High School, some pictures of my future host family, their house and the city itself. The Lobaina family consisted of parents and three teenagers.

The organisation planned a four-day trip to New York before school started. I had a chance to go and visit one of the most known cities in the world. During this trip I met many international students who were placed all around the 52 stated in North America.

My first schoolday was different from an ordinary first day at school back in Finland. When I arrived at the school I had to choose the subjects I wanted to study for the entire year, some of them were ecology, English year 12, government, weight training, economics and personal finance and study hall.

The school days were always similar. School started at 8 am and finished at 2.50 pm, lunch break being at 11am. Every day I got on the bus to school and then back home and I had the same classes every day at exactly the same time. After school students could join a variety of different sport clubs which were divided into seasons:

* Fall Season: cross country, American football, cheerleading or volleyball

* Winter Season: basketball, wrestling, winter cheerleading or indoor track

* Spring Season: track and field, baseball, softball or tennis

The school organised four different parties throughout the year:

* September: homecoming party in which hours before the first football game, there was a parade in which every sports team offered by the school walked around the track course.

* November: ring dance party in which all the junior students got their High School ring.

* March/ April: prom Seniors’ Party

* June: graduation ceremony

My weekends were fun and different than my normal weekend plans back home. During the weekend I would usually go to eat out with my host family or with some friends to Lynchburg which was the closest city to my town. On Saturdays I would also go to watch some sports games, go to the cinema or shopping. On Sundays I spent at Liberty University Church for most of the day. At church I first assisted with my host family in the main ceremony and then I had to go to a two-hour religion class for teenagers.

Every month the coordinator in my area, Lynchburg, organised some happenings in order to meet the other international students who studied at different high schools. Sometimes we could watch an American football game at Liberty University, go bowling or have a Christmas dinner.

Apart from the monthly meetings with the international students and the coordinator in our area, the ICES organisation planned trips to Washington D.C., New York City, Hawaii and many other cities around the country.

Although it is hard to leave your family and friends back home for ten months, I recommend everyone to have this experience, because as I have said it is unique, unforgettable and you will learn loads of new things from it.


Nina Laukkanen, 13B

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