The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Cultural Exchange

I was 17. I had a stable group of friends back home. I was in love. And my family finally moved into a house. Life promised to be pretty stable from now on. Until I heard that a couple of girls from school were planning an exchange year in Chile and France.

The idea started growing in my head. I was already pretty sure I would leave Latvia as soon as I’d finish school. And not because of the bad economy or the weather. Although of course, that matters. But mainly because I was curious.

So when I heard that I could do it even earlier, the game was on.

I ended up signing up for a year abroad in Belgium because France was full and I had to justify taking those French classes. I was afraid I would get a ‘bad’ education in a country like Brazil, which was a very stupid assumption to make. I’m still jealous of that girl who went to Chile.

Although Belgium is ridiculously close, as soon as I reached my host-families porch I cried my eyes out.

Now I dream of a home like that

In my world, only cities had real value. And there I was, in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know, that it’s almost impossible to be in the middle of nowhere in Belgium.

I saw no benefits of ending up in this remote place. I just wanted to keep partying with people my age. I was a ‘bit’ wild.

I had a fake ID and went a ‘bit’ overboard with clubbing since the age of 13. I’ve already have had several jobs and relied on no one.

Although I must give credit to my parents for pulling out of nowhere the money  for this overpriced AFS program.

So suddenly depending on adults again was a huge shocker.

Eventually, I managed to run away from the-middle-of-nowhere-family. I didn’t get to a city. But I did end up living with one of the most beautiful families I ever had the chance to meet. It is a home built by two still-in-love adults. Something I never witnessed before or ever again. This time around I was accused of not going out enough..

My host mum and two of the three sisters

But my spirit was already broken. I started questioning everything I believed in.

Maybe I was bitchy back home but I had a character. Set of values. Nothing made sense to me, now that so many people accused me of being spoilt and difficult.

All of the sudden being feisty didn’t mean anything. You had to please people in order to get what you want or just to be left alone. Or you could go back home, which I considered to be an epic fail.  And I didn’t have the skills to deal with that either.

Maybe it was a good thing for me. Maybe not. Maybe I should have gone back home. I don’t know.

I witnessed an exchange student becoming anorexic. I witnessed exchange students lasting but a month. But I also witnessed exchange students having the best time of their lives.


I think you have to have a certain degree of maturity or still be a kid, in order to live with strangers who have certain expectations towards you. Or just not be too screwed up?

Maybe we were just going through our own teenager stuff and being away and trying to adapt to a new culture just amplified everything.

I guess I was lucky since I’m still in touch with my Belgium family. I stuck through the bumpy stage and came to their home defeated. Like an empty cup. And because I was empty, they filled me with love and joy again.


4 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Cultural Exchange

  1. Viola December 5, 2016 / 11:22 am

    Well first of all I don’t think you would be the same person you are now!!! Also, you might be jealous of that girl who went to Chile, but I am jealous of you knowing and speaking fluent French, meeting new people, getting one of your first (best) experience AND it was a kickstart of you being abroad for a long time…

    I am proud of you sis for all your accomplishments! X


      • Nikhil Vaswani December 5, 2016 / 9:38 pm

        Must’ve been an experience of a life time ? 😉


      • Ilva December 6, 2016 / 9:33 am

        definitely an experience 😉


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