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Advice from a Veteran (Exchange Student)

Hey guys! So it's been over a year since I got back from my exchange! While doing this blog last year, I left my insta username for readers to DM me with any personal questions, and to this day I've still been getting them :) At least 10 times, I've gotten the 'what advice do you have' question, and seeing that I'm still able to access my blog, I'll just post my main points here for future readers!

1. be open-minded: it's best not to have strict expectations (or any). most things probably won't turn out the way you expect, but it may be for the better! 

2. take every opportunity you can to meet new people and try new things. my personal mantras were, 'what's the worst that could happen?' and 'this could be the best decision of my exchange'. Just keep reminding yourself that you are on exchange to get OUTSIDE your comfort zone, to try new things, and to adventure! Take advantage of that! 

3. keep yourself busy: you're less likely to get homesick if you keep your mind occupied.

4. be social/friendly!: sometimes strangers can seem unwelcoming so we're afraid to talk to them but I'd say whenever you get a chance to meet someone new, just be friendly and say hi, most of them would be ecstatic to meet you. (if not, their loss!) also, be patient. you will get TONS of questions about your life in America, so have fun with that!

5. talk to your host family if you're having any issues, shutting them out is never a good idea (and if you can't talk to them talk to your coordinator...that's what they're there for)

6. PACK LIGHT. TRUST ME. I learned this the hard way... only bring what you absolutely need, because you will have more things to bring home at the end of your trip, GUARANTEED. 

finally, try not to get too stressed about anything & have fun


Farewell Australia

On my last week of school in Australia, I was asked to deliver a speech at our full-school assembly. I think the speech summed up my experience pretty well, so I'll share it with you:

"For those of you who don't know, I'm Carmen. I've been in Perth on exchange from the USA for almost ten months. I have to say, this experience has been the most eventful, eye-opening, nerve-racking, emotional, fun year of my life. Being an exchange student has helped me become so much more independent, courageous, outgoing, knowledgeable, and responsible.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by Australia. My dad used to spend a month here every year doing research for his job as a professor, so naturally this country was one of the top candidates when the idea of studying abroad came up. Although when my exchange began, I had no idea what to expect.

As an American, I obviously didn't come over here to practice a second language, as exchange students usually tend to do. However, I’ve had such a blast immersing myself in the Aussie culture: learning the slang, trying new foods, and doing activities I’d never done: from snorkelling and surfing on New Year’s Day to wandering the city streets with other exchange students and sleeping under the stars in the Outback.

Staying with a host family that I’d never met before, living away from my twin sister, and going to a brand new school by myself have been some of the most challenging yet thrilling experiences of my life. My understanding and perspective of the world have expanded and matured tremendously in these ten months. They were nothing like what I pictured, and I won’t deny that there have been some serious rough patches. However, those are the moments that have made my experience more valuable and enriching than I could have hoped.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been here at this school for a fraction of my exchange. However, I can easily say that these three months were the best ones of my trip. I truly love and value the time I’ve spent at this school so much. My experience here has been completely different to that of Darling Range, mostly for the better. In only three months, I have met some of my favorite teachers and made friends for life. I have had so much fun experiencing the concept of school houses (Mackillop Represent!), playing soccer after school, and sharing all my own stories about America.

Australia is no longer just 'the place my dad used to go every year to study bowerbirds'. It’s no longer just the country of tanned surfers and clear-water beaches. No longer 'that place down under' with all the kangaroos and koalas. It's just Australia. The place I spent almost a year--the most amazing year-- of my life in. The place I formed some of the best relationships of my life. The newest part of my identity. It’s my home away from home.

Tomorrow, my last day at this school, and Friday, the day I take off, will be two of the most emotional days of my life. While back in July I had no doubt I’d return to see my family and friends again, I won’t have the same guarantee here. I will have to say goodbye to the family I’ve established an irreplaceable bond with, the mentors who have made this experience possible for me, and the amazing friends who have made it the most enjoyable, unforgettable time it could be, not knowing when I’ll see any of them again. I truly hope that this is not permanent goodbye, and that one day I will see you again.

As I’ve said, I’ve learned so many valuable lessons as an exchange student; and as cliché as some of it may sound, I would like to share it with you to conclude this speech.

  1. Take as many opportunities as you can to travel and meet new people. Travel is truly the best way to learn, and you’ll never imagine what kind of friends you will meet.
  2. Don’t be afraid to pursue activities you’ve never done before. I’m probably the least coordinated person you will ever meet, but I decided to try playing soccer just for the heck of it, and I’ve had the time of my life.
  3. If you want something, work for it. At first I faced a lot of resistance when trying to move schools, and I almost gave up. Thankfully, my host mom convinced me to keep pushing to make it happen, and it was definitely worth it.

Thank you so much to my friends for being so supportive, generous, and thoughtful. Thank you to my teachers for being so helpful and patient with me. And thank you so much to the staff for making this experience possible. I am truly grateful to all of you and I will never forget you."

Well, this is it. I've been so lucky to get the chance to write about my experiences and share them with all of you. I've answered so many questions from students all over the world about my experience, and even though my exchange is over, I will always be there for future exchange students. We're in this together! So if you have any questions, concerns, or just need someone to talk to, don't hesitate to directly message me on Instagram! @anythin9but0rdinary


Wrapping up my Exchange

Hey guys! Sorry for being MIA for the past month, I have had SO much going on. I'm back home in America now! I actually have been for about 2.5 weeks, but I have so much to tell you about my last month in Australia.

Last time you heard from me, I was only about halfway through my time at my new school. I'm so happy that I switched, LSC turned out to be a much better fit for me. In a total of only 10 weeks there, I made some of the best friends of my life, and I've still been talking to a few of them every single day. May was a very busy month for me; with the huge load of school assignments, soccer, catching up with friends for the last time, and starting to pack, I had practically no free time. 

On Saturday May 14th, I went to my friend's house for a sleepover. We went out to a restaurant for dinner and what I'd assumed would just be a meal for the four of us (me, her, and her parents) turned out to be a surprise-goodbye dinner for me. As soon as we walked in, a group of our friends from school were waiting there to greet us, and I was totally caught off guard. They gave me a few gifts and a collage of photos from our time together, and it turned out to be one of the best nights of my exchange. 

Because my school uniform was loaned to me, I was not able to take it home with me. However, I received a "house" shirt, which I had all of my friends at school sign to keep as a memento of the school (kind of like getting a yearbook signed at the end of the year). My year coordinator was kind enough to create, print, and laminate a collage of pictures for me to get signed and take home with me as well. In addition, I had my soccer team sign my jersey. 

On the last week of school, we had a college assembly. Because I would be leaving, I was asked to give a speech in front of the entire school about my experience at the college and as an exchange student. It was by far the biggest school I've been to, with over 1400 students (more than twice the size of my school at home!), however I agreed, knowing it would be a great opportunity for me. After all, I was an exchange student, and I had done plenty of things much more daunting in my last 10 months. 

In my last month, I also saw a few of my exchange friends as well as my host family for the last time. On my last weekend, I took my host family out to dinner at the same restaurant that we'd gone to on my first weekend in Perth for my birthday 9.5 months earlier, and here I said farewell to many of them. My immediate host family presented me with a photo book full of pictures of us throughout our time together. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever gotten, and I will keep it forever to look back on my amazing year.

These were some of the main highlights of my last month, I will post one or two more final posts to reflect on my overall experience. 

-If you are unhappy with something in your life, don't suffer in silence. Life is meant to be enjoyed, so push for what you want!


Adventures in the Outback

Well, I’m back in school once again. Last time I left off, I’d just finished a week at the beach with my friends from school, and I was headed for the outback! Gosh, that already seems like so long ago. These last two weeks have been a couple of the best ones of my life! I have really enjoyed just being surrounded by other people my age, Australian and European. Speaking of, I’m sure you’re anxious to hear about the Outback Tour.

For starters, this was a tour arranged by Petra’s Tours. It is completed unrelated to CIEE/SEANZ, but it is a service provided by Petra herself who takes groups of up to 20 exchange students on tours around Australia. I did the Outback Tour, which is a big road trip from Adelaide, South Australia, to Alice Springs in Central Australia.

On my tour, there were 20 exchange students: 16 girls and 4 boys. Lauren (my twin sister who also went) and I were the only Americans, with everyone else being from various countries in Europe. The majority was from Germany, but we also met people from France, Austria, Italy, and then of course there was Pien, who is from Netherlands. We came from a variety of different agencies and have all been in Australia for different lengths of time, but all had “high school exchange” in common, and we quickly bonded and had a great week.

We spent most of our time on the road, but we saw some pretty amazing things. We stopped in places like Coober Pedy (the “Opal Capital of the World”), and visited and hiked around Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), and Kings Canyon. We took turns preparing all of our meals ourselves which could be pretty fun. Half of the nights we camped under the stars (no tents!) with a bonfire, and the other nights we stayed in hostel-like places. It was so much fun! I really wish it'd lasted another week. 13029453_114650478939133_5176099578137932490_o
I’m back at school again with only a month to go, and I can tell this last month is going to fly by. While I'm really sad that my exchange is coming to end end, I'll be ready to be back in my own home with my family and friends. Until next time, xx

-Take as many opportunities as you can to travel. If you get a chance to do a tour like this with other exchange students, go for it!
-Unless you’re having a private conversation, NEVER speak in a language that others around you can’t understand. Especially at orientation or on a tour like this. If you go somewhere like Spain to speak Spanish and you meet other English speakers, don’t start speaking to them in English when there are other people around. It may be easier for you, but it’s rude to the people around you who can’t understand or participate in your conversation.
-Easy way to share photos with a group: create a group Facebook page and have everyone post all of their photos to it. That way, you can look through and save each others' photos without having to send them individually. 

Take a minute to check out my Instagram (@anythin9but0rdinary) if you're interested in seeing more of my life as an exchange student. Also, feel free to send me a direct message if you have any questions or advice for me (don't worry, you wouldn't be the first!)


April Holidays

Sunday, 4/10:

Term 1 is over, which means it's April holidays! Last week was crazy; I had an assignment due in practically every single one of my classes. The only thing that got me through the week was the fact that break was coming up, and it's here!

Yesterday, my host family and I went to my local coordinator's house for a BBQ. She only has two other exchange students at the moment, but they were both there with their families. One of the girls, Meike, I'd actually met about 6 months ago at Fremantle prison, the last time my LC organized a meet-up for us. 

The BBQ went pretty well; both girls have a sixteen-year-old host sister and they were nice. Karen (Norway)'s host sister was actually an exchange student last year in Denmark, so she was so social and easy to relate to as well. 

After lunch, my host family dropped me off at my friend Tara's house, and we came up to her beach house for a week, which is where I am now! So yeah, this first week of holidays is going to be pretty fun.

Friday, 4/15:

Hey! the first week of break is almost over, which is kid of sad. This week went by so fast, but we had a blast! The weather wasn't really great for swimming in the ocean, but we still spent a little time there. We spent the rest of our time shopping, playing games, watching movies, and going out for lunch/coffee. I also taught my friends how to make funnel cake! 

Back to the girl Meike from Saturday, I'm going to see her again next week. She and I are going on a 9-day tour to central Australia with a bunch of other exchange students (including Pien and Lauren) and I'm really excited! We leave tomorrow, so as soon as I get home today I have to start packing again. I really don't know too much about the trip, but it's going to be full of other exchange students, so I'm really excited. Wish us luck!



Happy Easter! Sorry it's been so long… I've had so much going on. I've been at my new school for three weeks, and I love it! It's so different from public school, but I don't regret moving. 

My first weeks at LSC have gone pretty smoothly. My friend Matylda (she goes to LSC and she's the one who convinced me to switch) wasn't actually there the first week, but her friend Tara acted as my buddy, showing me around and keeping me company. I actually got used to the campus pretty instantly, and by Wednesday I was able to get around on my own without getting lost. Most of my teachers have been pretty helpful and lenient with me, which is great. I just wish I'd switched earlier, so I'd had more time at this school. It's hard to believe that I only have a week and a half of school before the “April Holidays” (Autumn/Fall break) and then I only have 5 weeks of Term 2 before I go home. This exchange has gone by SO fast! With only a handful of weekends left, (and Sundays reserved for soccer) I'm struggling to cram in all the activities I still want to do while in Australia.IMG_4412 
Outside of school, I've spent a lot of time hanging out with Pien (Dutch exchange friend) in the past few weeks. She recently introduced me to Eleonora (Denmark) who has the same local coordinator as her, and the three of us have met up altogether a couple times. On Friday we went to the beach, and then Pien and I just came back to my house for a sleepover. I haven't gotten a chance to hang out with my new LSC friends outside of school, but we're hoping to soon. IMG_4433

So as you know, today is Easter. This morning my host sisters and I woke up to a surprise from the “Easter Bunny” which was a really sweet gesture (even if we're getting a little old for it). For lunch, the rest of the extended family came over, and we all had a big meal together (sort of like Christmas). It was a pretty relaxed but enjoyable day. 
Alright, well that's pretty much all that has been going on in my life at the moment. Since the term is coming to an end, we have a lot of assignments and tests coming up in the next two weeks. I'll be back at the beginning of holidays, Happy Easter!


Take a minute to check out my Instagram (@anythin9but0rdinary) if you're interested in seeing more of my life as an exchange student. Also, feel free to send me a direct message if you have any questions or advice for me (don't worry, you wouldn't be the first!)


Farewell Public School

So, tomorrow is my last day at DRSC. I didn’t want to say anything until I was certain, but I’m switching schools! About a month ago when the school year was first starting, I mentioned that I wasn’t looking forward to going back, but I never really explained that I’m not happy at Darling Range. I know it seems a little late in the game to be switching schools when I only have 3 months left, but I’ve actually been wanting to for months, and it’s just taken this long to finally happen.

It’s not that I hate Darling Range or anything. Although it does have a pretty negative reputation, my time there hasn't been all bad. Public school has been a great experience for me, and there are definitely some things I will miss about it; for example the freedom and flexibility that I have there, the simple uniform, the small amount of homework... However, regardless of these things, it just wasn't a good fit for me, and I wasn't getting the most I could out if my exchange.

So yesterday, I had an appointment to meet the principal, sort out my classes, and get a uniform at LSC, where I’ll be attending at the start of next week. When we first drove through the gate, I got really nervous because it was all so big and unfamiliar. I started to think about the comfort I find in the familiarity of DRSC, and I wondered whether it's really the best decision to leave. However, once I talked to the principal and some of the other staff, I felt so much better. They were so supportive and seemed to know what they were doing. They were a lot more considerate about me settling in well, and without even being asked they promised to assign a "buddy" to help me adjust. (If you read my early blog posts, you know that unfortunately Darling Range didn’t do that.) While it was nice to have a change from the whole strict-Catholic-school thing at Darling Range, I think a more structured, organized environment like LSC will be a better place for me as an exchange student. Although I originally felt uneasy about going into LSC yesterday morning, I’m actually excited to go back! Wish me luck!!

I’ll conclude this post with a tribute to Darling Range… Although it isn’t the school of my choice, it has been a big part of my exchange, and it will always be a part of me! I’ve had some experiences there that no other school could have offered. So for that I am truly thankful.


➣If you go on exchange, take this chance to try pursuing an activity you've never done before. For example, if you're not much of an athlete, maybe try doing a sport; this is a time to try new things :)

Take a minute to check out my Instagram (@anythin9but0rdinary) if you're interested in seeing more of my life as an exchange student. Also, feel free to send me a direct message if you have any questions or advice for me (don't worry, you wouldn't be the first ;))


Healthy Exchange-Student-Host-Family-Relationships are Important!

        Wow, I've just been looking through other CIEE students' blogs from this year and I have discovered that many of them who left only for a semester are already home by now. Although I don't know any of them, it makes me happy to read about the "after" for them as they reunite with their friends and families back in the States.

        I am only about 2/3 of the way through my exchange now; and as these people are all settling back into their former schools with their old friends, I have just returned to my Australian school and started year 12. So far, it hasn't been very different from last year. We have the same classes and schedule as before, so it doesn't really feel like a new year. The only thing that has really changed is most of my teachers, and the fact that I am starting at the beginning with everyone else. Things have fallen back into routine surprisingly easily, and it's hard for me to believe that I was on break for 10 weeks.

        Reflecting on the past 6 months, I'm realizing that so much of my perspective on life has changed, and I've discovered a whole new meaning and understanding for concepts I'd thought so ordinarily of before. For example, I've developed my own understanding of the concept of family. There's the dictionary definition, which describes it as those who are biologically related. And then there's the Disney definition, which claims that family isn't based on blood, but those who love you. Since I've gotten here, I've decided that 'family' is very similar to true friends. To me, it's the people who support you no matter what. Those you can be yourself around. Those who never question or judge your craziness, but embrace it. This one is very important, because it shows that just because you're not biologically related to your host family, doesn't mean they can't be your family too. 

        Note to future exchange students:
If you have this type of bond with your host family, you are SO incredibly lucky. Don't take it for granted. From the exchange students I've met and the stories I've heard, I've learned that some students are much better off --and some host families are simply BETTER-- than others. For example, having a host sibling your age (especially of the same gender) sounds ideal for obvious reasons. You likely get to go to school with them, hang out with their friends, and there's always someone your age around to spend time with. However, this isn't always the case. In fact, the majority of issues that my exchange friends have had within their host families have resulted from a spiteful, jealous host sister, usually of similar age. If you have host siblings like this, the only advice I can give you is to TALK TO THEM about it. Maybe clearing the air is the only thing you need to improve your relationship. However, if things still cannot be resolved, talk to your local coordinator* about finding a better host family. I have stressed plenty of times that you need to be flexible and open-minded while on exchange, and try to make the best of every situation (including making things work with your host family). However, your exchange should be a positive experience, which it can't be if you spend your time surrounded by people who put you down. 

*I mentioned my local coordinator in one of my previous posts, but I'm just realizing that I never explained what that means. To put it briefly, each student is assigned a coordinator who lives in our (host) area that looks out for us and checks up on us every once in a while to make sure we are doing okay. This is the person to talk to if we're having issues with our host family that we can't talk to them about.

        Note to anyone hosting an exchange student:
We exchange students give up a lot to study abroad, particularly a real family. We agree to do this as a way of becoming more independent, but in reality, we are no more than 17-18 years old. Keep in mind that we are completely alone when we come to your country, and you are the closest thing we have to family there. If at any time you are feeling resentful or envious of your exchange student, understand that they already have so much going on, and exchange especially isn't easy if their own host family doesn't treat them well. There is no way to possibly understand everything that exchange students go through unless you are one. No matter how he/she acts, they usually only have good intentions... and if it seems otherwise, don't sabotage or ice them out without even making an effort to improve the situation. I make no excuses for the few who intentionally act out and disrespect their host families, but the majority of us only want to feel accepted and... well, like we're a part of the family. If you host an exchange student and shut him/her out, it could ruin their entire experience. So be patient with us.


Goodbye Aussie Summer!

It's the end of January, and summer "holidays" are over. As of today, I have been in Perth for 6 months. It's inconceivable. Knowing that I have already been away from home for half a year. The idea that my exchange is 3/5 over. The people that I talk to and think about every day, whom I didn't even know EXISTED a year ago, are now the main people in my life. 

As predicted, the past two months have slipped by the fastest. I haven't really told you about my new year so far, have I? After I got back from Rockingham my host family went down to Busselton for a week. Two of our host-family-friend-families (not sure how to word it... Families close to my host family?) came too, and each of us stayed in our own little chalet in this caravan park. We spent the week together going to the beach, going out for dinner, having movie/game nights, and just hanging out. You may recall this is where Maja (Germany) lives; I did indeed meet up with her for a day, which was nice. 

Since we got back, we've just spent the last few weeks relaxing and doing everyday summer activities like swimming, shopping, and going to the movies. Tuesday was Australia Day, which is kind of like Aussie Independence Day, all about barbecues and pool parties and fireworks. My host family spent this time together at the South Perth Foreshore, having a picnic and then watching an amazing show of fireworks. Sorry Rockingham, but these were much better than the ones we saw on New Year's Day... and they were better than the past couple 4-of-July fireworks I've seen as well. IMG_4131 IMG_4077 IMG_4089 Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 8.46.39 PM

After only 4 months as a junior, I start year 12 today. I'm not at all looking forward to going back to school. I have had some of the best experiences this summer and I really don't want it to end. Although I still have 4 months of after-school and weekends... Who says they have to stop? (;

Q&A POST: Click here to view my post answering questions I've been asked about exchange.

If you're interested in seeing more of my life as an exchange student, take a minute to check out my 
Instagram. & Feel free to send me a direct message (@anythin9but0rdinary) if you have any questions that I haven't already answered!


Why Shouldn't I Study Abroad? Why Should I?

    I don't want to discourage you from studying abroad, but I want to be completely truthful about the experience. It would be dishonest for me to only share the good moments and pretend it's like that all the time. As much fun as I've been having here, being an exchange student always has its drawbacks. I decided to make a quick pros and cons list to give you a better insight of what high school exchange is like. 


    Obviously on exchange you're going to meet heaps of new people. By the time you leave, you'll have
    friends all over the world. The bonds you form while abroad may even turn out to be some the best
    relationships of your life. 
    Summer and winter are reversed in the Northern and Southern hemispheres,so if you study abroad
    for a year in a country in the opposite hemisphere, you'll be there for that country's summer break!
    I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory. It's not surprising that an exchange student would have
    more freedom than other kids. We're in a country on our own, without our families, meaning we are a
    lot more in charge of ourselves.
    While studying abroad, you really can use "I'm an exchange student" or "I'm only here for a few
    months" as an excuse for so many things.
    Studying abroad is all about new opportunities and experiences. No doubt you will make some
    unforgettable memories while abroad.

These are just a few of the many amazing things that come with being an exchange student. However, everything good comes at a price.


    There's no doubt that studying abroad is going to be expensive. You have to pay an agency such
    as CIEE the fees to participate, but that doesn't cover expenses such as food, textbooks, uniforms,
    tuition (if applicable), or any other necessities you need while abroad.
    Homesickness is definitely a possibility if you're away for a long period of time. Personally, it hasn't
    really been an issue for me, but exchange is not for those who get majorly homesick.
    The organization works to place you in a good home, but there's no guarantee that you'll like your
    family or school. If you're really unhappy, you can request that they move you, but it can take weeks to
    find a new home, and there's no way to predict what they replacement will be like. I am personally not
    very happy at my school, but my family has tried to get me into others around the area, none of which
    open to exchange students. So you really just have to be flexible and open-minded.

➣For those with extremely dry hair: COCONUT OIL. It has changed my life, seriously. After washing
    and towel-drying your hair, rub some coconut oil in your hands and massage it into your hair,
    focusing on the brittle areas. I can't stress how much of a difference it makes. (But don't use too much
    at once! Remember, a little bit goes a long way.)

Q&A POST: Click here to view my post answering questions I've been asked about exchange.

If you're interested in seeing more of my life as an exchange student, take a minute to check out my 
Instagram. & Feel free to send me a direct message (@anythin9but0rdinary) if you have any questions that I haven't already answered!

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