Sophia, Outbound to Paraguay

2nd journal Months 2 and 3

The world is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined. The past few months have been crazy. The honeymoon period is over and things are starting to seem more normal. Normalish. Life is still crazy most days and honestly I'm struggling to find time to keep track of it all!

Exhibition: My school has an opportunity for each of the classes to learn a dance and perform it in front of the school in a competition type of thing. It was so much fun! We spent weeks preparing! There were practices on Sundays and after school and every free moment in school was spent going over the dance getting it engrained into our heads until we could've probably done it in our sleep! It was a Hip Hop routine that was to Billboard/Top Ten music in Spanish. I'm writing about this because I think this was the beginning of something very lovely with me and my friends from school. It became a chance for me to bond and talk with everyone, solidifying friendships and building new ones. I loved every moment of it and I feel that my friendships are so much stronger now. It helps that I can speak to everyone much easier!

New thing about me: I'm blonde! My second host mom took me to the salon and I decided that it was a new year and a new me and I wanted to change something about me to match that. I'm always changing my hair and messing with it so bleaching it blonde really wasn't too big of a change but it definitely was a shock to my friends back home!

Interact Club: Literally some of the best people I have ever had the fortune to meet. Honestly some of my best friends are in Interact and the club itself is really well run and really fun to be a part of! So far we've done a few projects including painting benches at a church, selling pizzas to raise money for a charity, and selling hamburgers to raise money for an Interact camp in Argentina that I'm going to be a part of!

Rotaract: So Rotaract is a club for adults ages 18-30 and it's basically for young adults who want to give back to the community. Now, I'm not old enough to properly be a part of Rotaract (there are some meetings held in locations that are for 18+) but all of my host siblings are a part of it, so I contribute as best as I can! We did a project recently where there was a field for people who wanted to play soccer or lacrosse or other sports and there was an expanse of empty land behind it. We got permission and ended up planting about 60 trees in one afternoon in this area! It was so much fun, but it was so hot!!! The weather here is crazy during the spring. One moment it's chilly and the next you feel like your face is melting off!

First day of Spring: First day of Spring was September 21st and this was when things got tricky to talk back home. Because while we turned our clocks forwards, the USA turned theirs back. So now there's a 2 hour time difference which makes it difficult to find time to call home but we make it work even if it's just one call a month! However there was a party in school for this day! The first day of spring is the same day as Día de los Jóvenes (which is a day to celebrate teenagers) so the school allowed us a day without uniform (still Catholic school appropriate- no legs allowed!) And there was music and food and a LOT of dancing! The teachers were even dancing for a good part of it!

Teaching English: I think I've found my calling in life. I've never really known what I want to do work-wise. It always seemed like such a daunting question: "What do you want to study in college?" Well first of all, how am I going to pay for college is the first question! College in America is so expensive and the thought of being in debt for the rest of my life sets me a bit on edge, but there's a school in Argentina called UBA (University of Buenas Aires) and it's considered one of the top colleges in South America. And it's free. I'd still have to pay for housing (and pass the exam to get in!) But I'd really like to go there if I get the chance because they have an amazing program for Foreign Language Education, specifically English. Working with my students and seeing them grow and change and learn so quickly (they didn't know how to count to five before and now they know how to count to 20 and they know different types of foods and family members!), it makes me feel really accomplished. It also makes me really really happy. My students have become a huge part of my exchange life and I can't imagine not walking into the elementary school on a Friday and not getting showered with "Hola Tía!!!"s and general excitement over learning something new.

Mi Debut: I went to a ball! Not only that but I was "presented" at the ball! It was such a strange experience for me having never done anything similar in my life! I had training to walk in high heels (which I can now do for about 8 hours with little problem!) And training for the ball itself! It was technically a competition but since I didn't want to compete, I was just a part of the group for "the experience". I was the first person not born in Luque to participate in this ball (ever!).

Changing Houses: I am currently with my second host family and let me tell you, it is extremely different. While my first host family was home all the time and there was always a hustle and bustle about the place (so much so that I barely had time to breathe!) My second host family is much more chill. My host parents work all the time and don't really get home until 8pm and since school is out, I'm alone in the house a lot. That's a lot of down time for me so I started 2 music classes for singing and for violin, as well as a chorus and an orchestra! I've also started to have more friends than before and it's very nice to be able to connect even more with new people!

Tips and tricks after 3 months complete:

1. Take pictures. Take a lot of pictures. Create an Instagram for your exchange. Post those pictures to Instagram and caption it in your native language and the language you're learning. It's so cool to see the pictures from other exchange students and your family want to see what you're doing back home.

2. IF YOU GET SICK ASK FOR HELP. I got very sick for a while and I ended up not wanting to go to the doctor for fear of not being able to use my insurance (some exchange students mentioned having problems with it). This was a mistake because it ended up being worse and the sickness lasted about 3 weeks leaving me unable to eat certain food for a while. I'm much better now and I can eat whatever I want, but I think if I had asked for help before, I would've been much happier and healthier.

3. Honeymoon period is real and it does end! After a while, people stop coming up to you and you need to start going up to them. You need to be the one to take initiative and make friends because you can't expect everyone else to do this for you. Be first!

4. Oof. Homesickness. It's not fun. I haven't experienced full out, ache in my heart homesick as some exchange students of explained to me, but there are times when I really miss little things like the Thai food shop near my house that I went to eat at with my mom on days when neither of us wanted school food. A good way to combat this is to surround yourself with friends and family in your host country. Whenever I'm feeling a bit down, I can always call a friend and they can come over or we can talk on the phone for ages. It really helps to get my mind back into this country and not back home.

5. Get rid of old clothes. If you haven't worn it since you've arrived or it doesn't fit anymore for whatever reason, get rid of it. You won't have room for it in your suitcase when you go home so you might as well stay on top of it so you don't need to do a suitcase purge at the end of the year!

6. Be the exchange student you want people to talk about when you leave. Be nice. Be kind. Be amazing. Make an impression. You're only here for one year. Make it count.

Besos de Paraguay! Les amo!

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-Sophia Gomez