Experience of Being an Exchange Student

Tonnam Ittisan

“It’s not a year in your life but it’s a life in a year.” This is a quote that exchange students often hear. In one year here we meet a new family, new communities, friends, language, cultures, food, and more. We face many things that we don’t expect, both positive and negative.

When people learn I’m an exchange student, they always ask me why I came here. Here is my reason. The most fun time for teenagers is in high school, isn’t it? Everyone wants to challenge themselves. I’m a person who wants to go out and see the real world. I don’t want to just see it on the Internet. I want to discover all of the questions and answers about my host country that I have never come across before from all the way on the other side of the world from my country, THAILAND. High school is the best time to study abroad, find myself, to live in a different country, and to become more independent.

America is a very interesting country to study abroad in! There are very good schools, a strong economy, and they use the English language which is the official language of the world. It’s not easy to be in a new country, especially to be in one that speaks a different language than your mother language. But trust me, if you can walk through it, the things you experience are most definitely worth it. All of the things you have done in your host country are going to be in your memory. It’s memory you can’t buy from the stores. Spend time there and you will have unforgettable memories forever!

There are various differences between Thailand and America. We have different time zones. Thailand is 11 hours ahead of the United States. The driver drives on the right side of the car. We have very spicy food. Although, one thing that surprises me is I can find lots of Thai restaurants in Pittsburgh… but Thai food here is not spicy (comparatively). In Thailand, we have to stand for the national anthem every day at 8 a.m. and before we watch movies in the theater to show we respect our king. Thailand doesn’t have snow… ever in the whole country and it’s very hot. We use a different language and the Thai language’s alphabet is completely different from English. If you want, you can stop me in the hall and ask me to write your name in Thai!

The journey before I got in Pittsburgh was extensive. I traveled on the plane for 18 hours and transferred in the United Arab Emirates. It was a very long flight. Finally, I landed in New York and met many different national students — studying abroad not only gains us friends in the country that we have visited, but also friends from around the world. The next day after arriving, we departed to our host family. I was on the bus for 5 hours from New York to Pittsburgh.

In the United States, I have had opportunities to join many activities. This Fall, I joined outdoor soccer. It was fun and I had an amazing time on the team. We went to Ligonier for summer training camp. I really liked senior night. It showed us how we love and value each other on the team. Senior night may seem like something that is normal but it’s an awesome experience for us. It works the same way if you study abroad. With other exchange students, I’ve been to a bonfire and tried s’mores, which I happen to love a lot. It’s an American thing and I think if you don’t try s’mores, you haven’t arrived in America yet! (And also Pierogi!)

We have our own agendas. I think it’s fun to share our stories and hear about each other’s lives. You know many things that I don’t know. I think studying abroad can open your eyes about the world. At the end of my exchange year, I’m going to shed a lot of tears. I think it’s right to say that America is my favorite place and my second home. “You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place”