Small Town, Big Heart – My Exchange Year in a Small Town

When international students sign up to be part of the exchange experience, they sign up to experience life in a whole new way. Nearly everything will be different, the language, the geography, the food and the celebrations. And while that can be overwhelming and even scary, it is also thrilling! Belen from Spain shares her first reactions to finding out she’d be going from a big city to a rural village, and how now she wouldn’t change it for the world.

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“My name is Belen and I am from Spain, specifically from a big city called Granada with 232,208 inhabitants. I am currently living in a small town in Oklahoma called Red Oak. I guess that you don’t know too much about Read Oak, but I will gladly present this small town and the magic it transmits. It is a village with 5537 inhabitants, a supermarket, a post office, a gas station and a small school. I’m not joking, that’s all you can find. There’s no shops, no malls, no cinemas. Being honest, I was super scared when they told me that I was going to go to that small town. I mean, I come from a big city with all kinds of entertainment, and the first thought that came to my mind was, “what am I going to do there? Will I play with goats?” It is true that I was very wrong. I have been very lucky to have arrived to this small town. I am happy to tell you that great things come wrapped in small boxes and Red Oak has certainly been my best gift hidden in a small box.

There are great advantages that living in this small rural area has offered me. For example, being able to attend two state championships! By belonging to a small town, you are more likely to play more and feel more attached to the team. In my case I can say that I had the opportunity to score three points in a varsity game! During this experience, I am learning a lot at my high school. I have developed skills I didn’t know I had. I also had the opportunity to participate in a scientific experiment and win a prize!

From the first day I arrived, the friends I’ve made have helped me with everything, they have constantly encouraged me and made me feel good. They have created a home for me that I would never have imagined, these people are stealing a part of my heart that will always belong to them. All I can say is how good I feel with them and how grateful I am for having crossed paths with them.

One of the people I am very grateful for is Tracey. She has been my Local Coordinator during this experience. I am happy to say that communication has not been a problem since she has cared about me at all times and if I had any problem, she was immediately there to help me. It has certainly been an advantage to have someone as attentive, loving, caring and pleasant as her. I am grateful for the treatment I have received from both Spanish and American organizations.

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If you asked me about my home right now, I would tell you that I have two, and the funny thing is that I have one on each end of the planet. I have always thought that homes are inhabited by people of the same blood as you, but the truth is that a home is made by how the people there make you feel every time you are in their house. They have helped me at all times, and from the first day, they have made me feel like one of them. Sharing these walls with them has been pleasant, simple and easy. So yes, now I have two homes and before this experience, I didn’t even think that was possible.

I can say that one of the best feelings every morning is to get up and see the cows from my window. I always thought I was more of a city girl, but I only had to come here for a year to fall in love with these rural areas. I think getting out of my comfort zone has made me realize that I wasn’t quite who I thought I was. And this time, I’m not talking about window views, I’m talking about an inside view. A view that has personally made me reconnect with myself. I didn’t know I was lost until I found myself in this experience. I don’t think anything in the world could have made me feel as good as the way Red Oak has. Now I know who I am and where I am going.

I know that when exchange students say at the end of their experience that they don’t want to go home, that it’s not a joke, it’s what really happens. What I want most right now is to go to my parents and thank them for the tremendous opportunity that I will probably tell my grandchildren about with a tremendous smile on my face. I still remember my father talking to me before embarking on this incredible experience about how this was going to open thousands of doors for me. Dad, the truth is that at that time I was not paying much attention to the conversation. But right now, I do thank you because you were always right. Of course, being able to speak English is a huge door, since months ago I wouldn’t even have been able to write an essay like this. But there are many others that don’t appear in the essay, such as maturity, independence, development, growth, and many more on a personal level. I am sure that not even 20 years of high school could have given me everything that this experience has given me in one year. Missing home is very scary, but missing the world is even worse. If I am going to finish this essay, it will be with saying: Be Brave.”

Belen’s story teaches us that it doesn’t matter how big or small your town is, your community has incredible things to offer exchange students! Join the thousands of families that open their hearts and homes to these students each year, and teach your new family member all the fun there is to be had in your hometown.

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Small Town, Big Heart – My Exchange Year in a Small Town

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