Tag Archives: Student exchange

132 days in Honduras

8 May

AFS Australia asked me to send through a report to let them know how my AFS experience has been up until today. It’s been published on their website, but for posterity’s sake I thought I would cross-post it to my blog too.

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I had the good fortune to complete an AFS high school exchange in 2000 to Brazil. I often describe this year as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that hasn’t stopped me from signing up for another AFS exchange, determined to turn once-in-a-lifetime into twice-in-a-lifetime.

Once caught the travel bug is an itchy little critter, so it was with a huge sense of excitement that I said farewell again to family and friends and headed overseas. This time I’ve landed in Honduras to complete a semester-long AFS Volunteer Abroad program.

I’m thrilled I can combine two passions of mine: travel and volunteer work. The idea of ‘seeing the world with purpose’ is a philosophy that very much appeals to me. An AFS volunteer program was the perfect way to realise this goal.

And Honduras certainly hasn’t disappointed. It’s a fascinating country full of contradictions and extremes. I often find myself surprised, elated and dismayed. Sometimes all three in the same day.

It’s difficult to single out just one or two highlights of my trip so far. I’ve explored ancient Mayan ruins, written press releases for UNICEF (my community project organisation), toured a volcanic island in a mototaxi (the Honduran version of a tuk tuk), visited families living in extreme poverty, been bogged in an airboat, and spent many, many hours lazing in my favourite hammock. And that’s just the tip if the iceberg.

I was also lucky enough to celebrate my birthday here. I had a fantastic party with all my extended host family. As well as tacos, tequila and cake, my fiesta included the violent destruction of a piñata. This was a lot of fun and the remnants made a great party hat!

Piñata party hats

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lived and travelled in Latin American countries before or because I’m now older (confirmed) and wiser (debatable), but culture shock hasn’t been an issue. I’ve settled into life here with an almost surprising ease.

However making friends can prove more challenging than you might expect. It can be difficult to express your personality when you’re working with a more limited vocabulary. I’m lucky that my level of Spanish is pretty fluent, but I still find it hard to joke around and banter like I would in English.

One of my host-mother’s friends actually thought I got my words mixed up when I told her I was an extrovert. We now have a running joke that I’m only extroverted in English. In Spanish I’m an introvert.

Introvert or extrovert, the way to get the most out of your exchange is to keep putting yourself out there. Always say yes to any opportunities that come your way. You’ll be surprised where saying ‘yes’ can lead you.

I’m really glad I decided to turn this particular travel dream of mine into a reality. Halfway through my 132 days in Honduras and there are no regrets, just lots of great experiences and happy memories.

If you’re contemplating going on an AFS exchange, I only have three words for you: take the challenge! You won’t regret it.

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Meetings and greetings

26 Feb

I arrived in Tegus at 8:30pm on Thursday evening. Waiting for me at the airport were my host mum and a volunteer from AFS. My host mum drove me home and I got to meet my host grandparents and all three of my (initially very wary) host dogs.

Several of my host mum’s friends came round to meet me too, as well as my host uncle. It was really nice to have such a warm welcome and meet so many friendly faces on my first night.

We had a late, light dinner of dried banana slices topped with a salad of tomato, green capsicum and onion mixed with a vinaigrette. It was really yummy. I should have taken a photo, but after a day of travelling I was really tired and didn’t think of it.

When it became obvious that I could barely keep my eyes open any longer everyone said their goodbyes and I went to bed. My host family had a gorgeous bunch of flowers and a card waiting for me when I got to the room.

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My room is lovely and also very pink as it belongs to my host-sister who is 17 and currently on an AFS student exchange to Austria. I leave Honduras on 2 July and my host sister returns 5 July so we’ll just miss each other.

It’s a bit of a shame, but we’ll chat be able to chat via Skype and ‘meet’ online. The Internet has definitely made the world a smaller place.

On Friday my host mum dropped me off at the airport where I waited with several AFS volunteers for the other participants to arrive. There are three boys from Japan and one girl from Sweden starting their high school exchange as well as two girls from Belgium doing the community service program.

Once everyone was safely on terra firma we set off for Valle de Angeles, a small town about 40 minutes outside of Tegucigalpa to have our orientation/arrival camp. The camp was fun and, apart from the extra focus on safety and security, very similar in content to the sort of camps we run in Australia.

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AFS volunteers and participants at the arrival camp

On Sunday we returned to Tegus, quite early in the morning as most of the other participants needed to travel to reach their final destinations. Tela, San Pedro Sula, Danli, La Esperanza and Siguatepeque will each host one of the new arrivals. In Tegus there’ll be me and one of the Japanese students.

My host family actually have a holiday house in Valle de Angeles so early on Sunday afternoon I then travelled back there with them. I’ll write a bit more about Valle de Angeles tomorrow if get the time.

It’s my first day at work today (Tuesday) so I need to get organised. Fingers crossed I make a good first impression. Wish me luck!

Meeting the family (on paper)

13 Jan

“AFS friendships last a lifetime. By welcoming an AFS student, you are making the world a friendlier place and giving your family an unforgettable experience.”

~ AFS Intercultural Programs website

I have a Honduran family! I received my host family information on Thursday. It was so exciting to read through the pack and look at all the photos.

I will have a host mum, 17-year-old host sister, host grandpa, host grandma and three host dogs at home. My host sister is currently on exchange. I’m not sure if we’ll get to meet during my stay or if she’ll be overseas the whole time I’m living with her family.

As I’d guessed, I will be living in the capital, Tegucigalpa, but on the outskirts or outer suburbs of the city. My host mum describes the area they live in as a quiet and peaceful place surrounded by trees and mountains.

I haven’t got enough information yet to check out my suburb on Google Maps, but as soon as I do I’ll be having a sneaky cyber-peak at my part of town. (It’s crazy how much smaller the world has been made by satellite mapping.)

I won’t go into more detail here until I’m able to check that my host family is comfortable with the idea of ‘starring’ in my blog. They all look lovely though and I can’t wait to meet them.

I’m so grateful they’ve decided to open up their home to me.  I hope they’ll get as much out of the experience as I’m sure I will. Hosting an exchange student (or in my case an adult volunteer) can be a wonderful way of learning about another culture. You don’t even need to leave your living room.

I can’t recommend the experience more highly. Whether you’re a participant or a host family there’s so much you can learn and so much fun to be had.

If you’re interested in hosting an exchange student check out the AFS website for all the details. Many year and semester programs start in February, so I’m sure there are plenty of students out there who are anxiously awaiting news of their host family like I was.

Could the information pack they’re waiting for be about your family?