In 2013, the ECA had roughly nine million foreign exchange students that came to the United States to study abroad. For students around the world, traveling to America is an amazing opportunity to immerse in diverse cultures, and to receive additional education.
Jaakko Pohto is an 18-year-old from Espoo, Finland, who spent one year in Bondurant, Iowa, as an exchange student. His host was the Thrap family that consisted of Elena, Cameron, Elise, Jacob, and their mom and dad, Becca and Josh.
The process of becoming an exchange student can be quite difficult, with many steps to achieve in order to travel around the world. Jaakko stated, “I had to write two or three essays, get a letter of recommendation, sign official papers about my health, sign up for a visa, go to a weekend orientation for all the exchange students, and go to an interview.”
Even though the process is tedious, it’s all worth it in the end for the students. Memories of host families and the states remain with exchange students for life. The smallest things can become the greatest of recollections.
“I remember meeting them for the first time. I got Elena and Elise confused because I was super tired, but it was kind of funny. We went to a Chinese restaurant, and right from the get-go, I could tell that it was going to go really great with the Thraps. We all connected really well,” explains Jaakko.
The host family stays within his hearts, as he describes every family member in detail. He recalls the time Elena gave him a bag of candy, all the jokes, and classes him and Elise had, and the video games he played with Cameron. Jaakko thanks Jacob for all the rides he gave him, and thanks Josh and Becca for being some of the kindest people he’s ever met.
And it’s not just about the family, the friends are notable as well. Grinning, Jaakko adds, “Shoutouts to Mark, Matthew, Izaak, Sawyer, Ethan, Spencer, and Caleb. Everyone that came over to play video games all the time.
Jaakko declares his experience as a whole, “I fell in love with Bondurant throughout my year there. I really love that town. I would recommend students to study abroad. It opens your eyes to the fact that the world is so huge, and your bubble is special, but it’s just a small part of the whole Earth. Sometimes you have to go really far to find yourself.”
Jaakko’s final statement to the world is, “Go check out my Soundcloud: ‘soundcloud.com/9jake.”
With so many students dying to study abroad, the options for foreign exchange programs are endless. Some popular programs are EF Student Exchange, AFS-USA, and ASSE. Whether students are looking to travel, or host, there’s no way the experience could go wrong.