By Eva Lehocka ’20 (Zvolen, Slovakia / Pleasant Hill, IA)
Hi, my name is Eva, and I spent my exchange year in Pleasant Hill, Iowa – a neighborhood of the capital city, Des Moines.
Every single second in America was a fantastic adventure for me. This year brought me many travels, new lessons learned, unforgettable moments, a new family, and, finally, many lifetime friends.
Since I attended a weekend meeting with my placement organization before I started to attend my American school, exchange students from other countries became my first friends.
We found ourselves, young students from more than thirty different countries, in one room full of expectations, but also fear, for what was awaiting us. And that was probably the most crucial factor in making such strong friendships. We were all so different (because of our country of origin, mother tongue, customs) but at the same time also very similar. We were all exchange students in an unfamiliar country and that is what united us. During that initial meeting, we also did various activities and played games to get to know each other better, but even without them, we would have become close friends.
We used to talk to each other about our host families, expectations, problems, experiences. It was amazing to know that I was not alone in that situation and that I had people around me who faced similar challenges. Students from Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, and North Macedonia became some of my best friends.
My American school was huge, with over 2,300 students. It might seem like it should have been easy to make friends among so many people, but the exact opposite was true. It was very hard for me to do so. During my first day at school, everyone was so impressed with me, as many of the students had never even met anyone from another country (and many had no idea what or where Slovakia was). They wanted to know a lot about me and my country, but unfortunately, in most cases, that enthusiasm quickly disappeared. After all, they already had their groups of friends, and to befriend someone completely new must have been difficult for them.
I was fortunate enough that some of the exchange students I already met also attended my school. We truly understood each other and we had a lot in common. We used to go out together, meet outside of school, and attend various events –things that ordinary teenagers do.
But over time, I began to realize that I came to America to get to know the American culture and the everyday life of Americans. I figured out that it was me who had to take the first step. So, I did. I went to American students and started talking with them. Of course, we did not always become friends, but in most cases, we did. We started having much more fun, hanging out, and so on. And thanks to them, I got to know other people, and made many more friends.
As time passed by, I made great friends, whether with exchange students, classmates from my school, members of athletic teams, or other people my age. If I regret anything, it’s that I wasn´t myself from the beginning. I was hiding because I feared what others would think of me.
Life is too short to waste it; we must live every single second as if it was our last one. We must overcome our fear, and despite a previous failure, it is never time to give up.
I’m in touch with most of my friends, and we’re planning to meet again sometime. Whether we will see each other again or not, I’m very grateful to have them, and I love them all so much.