Exchange student fulfills dream, enjoys American experience

“When I was about 10, the only thing I could think about was living my own ‘High School Musical’ experience.”

Junior Clara Garcia Castineira is finally getting to live this dream. Clara, an exchange student from Galicia, Spain, says that this journey is something that her and many other students in Spain get to experience.

“The owner of ZARA, Amancio Ortega, offers 75 scholarships to students, depending on our grades, to study our junior year in the United States,” Clara said. “They informed my school that I was eligible, and I submitted my application to the program.”

Moving across an ocean for 10 months may seem like a tough choice to make, but Clara says that the benefits of experiencing another country were too good for her to pass up.

“I wanted to improve my English and become totally fluent in it,” Clara said. “I wanted to get away from where I spent all my life, and I wanted to experience independence. [I wanted to prove that] that I can be self-sufficient.”

Although Clara enjoys getting to experience life on her own, being 4,738 miles from home causes her to get homesick every now and then despite the fact that keeping in touch with her family is not hard due to communication services such as Skype and internet texting.

“I usually use Skype so that I can talk to them and watch them while we talk,” Clara said. “During the week, I usually text them with an app called WhatsApp. It is as close to a phone call as I can get.”

A part of the exchange program that Clara is participating in is getting to live with a host family during the exchange. A group of local coordinators puts a profile together for each exchange student and searches for families to host these kids.

“The selected families get to see all the profiles, and they decide who they want to host,” Clara said. “I am really glad that I [was selected by a family] here in Bryan.”

After being in America for merely a couple of months, Clara says that she has already gotten a dose of American culture, but she still holds on tightly to her Spanish roots.

“I’ve learned a lot about football and I like it way more than I used to before I came here,” Clara said. “I still think that soccer is the best sport ever, though.”

Apart from sports, Clara has also had the opportunity to broaden her experience of fine arts at Bryan High.

“I am participating in choir [and] in the Indoor Percussion group,” Clara said. “I am also participating in this year’s musical, The Sound of Music. I enjoy all the things I am doing.”

Academically, Clara is participating in the IB Program as a certificate student, only taking three IB classes. Clara said that the IB Program has pushed her and has many benefits to it.

“I think [IB] is interesting, and it works really well at this school,” Clara said. “It might require a lot of hard work but at the end it pays off, especially if you want to study out of the country. Also, I have to say that you have some of the best teachers at school if you do IB.”

For any students who want to participate in an exchange program, or even travel around the world, Clara says that there is one key element that can make or break your experience.

“I think the most important thing when you’re travelling is to be social,” Clara said. “Also, especially if you’re travelling to different cultures, it is really important to be respectful and open minded, understand that there are different traditions and habits, and adapt to them. Even if you don’t agree [with them], it is important to respect them.”

As Clara’s last semester in Bryan is moving forward, Clara says that she is going to miss the friends and the memories that she’s made at Bryan High.

“I’ve met some really awesome people who, in such a short time, left a big impression on me, and they have a big, special place in my heart,” Clara said. “They accepted me, they wanted to get to know me, they gave me confidence, they trusted me, and that is something that I am so thankful for.”