Each year here at Orcas Island High School, we welcome a new foreign exchange student to our school with open arms. After a year of online school and no exchange programs, it was especially exciting to receive our newest exchange student, Paula Gutiérrez, visiting all the way from Spain! Paula is a junior and plans on attending our school for the remainder of the school year. You have probably seen her laughing in the hallways, or perhaps ran into her at the homecoming dance or bonfire. Gutiérrez has been an excellent addition to our school, and, curious as to how the exchange process has treated her thus far, I decided to sit down with her for a chat.
My first question had to do with cultural differences. I asked Gutiérrez what her biggest culture shock moment has been since arriving in the US. “Meal times,” she told me. “Breakfast is the only meal we have at the same time in both countries. In Spain we have lunch at 3 and dinner at 9, more or less and lunch is more important than dinner in Spain. For lunch we have two dishes and dessert and for dinner we have something very light.”
I then asked her what has been the hardest adjustment, to which Gutiérrez replied, “The time difference is really big, there are 9 hours of difference.” As a result, finding an ideal time to call with friends or family is a struggle.
Gutiérrez quickly found her footing in our school’s athletic programs; she joined the Viking volleyball team this past season and also takes the chance to cheer on our soccer team whenever she can. Gutiérrez also threw herself into homecoming preparations and helped the junior class execute their lip sync, hallway, and float.
In her words, “We don’t really have school spirit in Spain and seeing how much you support your school, especially with sports, is great.” For Gutiérrez, our school’s spirit and fun classes such as our Wednesday electives have been the most enjoyable part of her experience at OIHS thus far.
Despite all the wonderful new experiences, being a foreign exchange student does not come without hardships. When asked what she missed most about Spain, Gutiérrez told me, “[I miss] my family and friends, of course. It’s really hard knowing that I’m not going to see them for ten months, since they are not allowed to visit me.” She also mentioned she misses the food and the warm weather; something us locals often long for as well.
For anyone who may be interested in the foreign exchange process, I asked Gutiérrez to briefly explain it: “[In Spain,] I had to hire an agency that helped me through the whole process. I had to write about myself so that a host family could see my profile and choose me. I also had to get a medical exam and some vaccines that are not needed in Spain. The last thing I did was go through an interview with the American Embassy to get a Visa.” That sounds like quite a bit of work, but absolutely worth it for both Paula Gutiérrez and all of us students here at OIHS.