I spent the last year (2015-2016) in California (well, duh, you probably read the title). “California, wow, this is so awesome!” was one of my first thoughts receiving the letter with my placement last summer. Until I looked at the exact spot on the map. Susanville, California, is about as far away from the famous cities and the sea as it gets in California. It’s located at the border to Nevada and is a prison town, which has been in a drought for years. But hey, I wasn’t going to judge by looks. My host family and the house that was going to be my home for the next year looked pretty nice, as far as I could see it on the pictures they sent me.
Packing, goodbyes, let’s keep it short, both were extremely hard, but I survived and learned didn’t I? Heading to New York I already found good friends in the other Swiss goofs travelling with me. That said, to spend the week in New York City with them has been such a privilege and the best start to an exchange you can imagine. The camp was like a regular camp with more people and the coolness of the location and activities times 100. I mean, have you even been at Times Square with a bunch of your friends? No kidding, it was so much fun. The end of the week brought more goodbyes, yay. Except for Brandon, also from Switzerland, who was located in the same town as me, we all parted. Brandon and I stayed together until we met our host families in Reno, Nevada, which is the closest airport to Susanville. I remember I was so tired, but super excited and the first thing we did was go and get pizza, which I certainly wasn’t opposed to.
The first couple of weeks brought a lot of new things with them and also many awkward moments. Let’s just say it doesn’t exactly give you a boost in confidence when you flood the bathroom, because you don’t freaking know how to properly use shower curtains or you set off the fire alarm the first time you cook because you forget to turn off the gas. My host family immediately handled me like their sister and daughter, which made it easy for me to feel at home and settle in really quick.
To the school I can say, it definitely is different than at home. But depending on what classes you take it’s not necessarily easier. My school required me to take English, US History and Biology, to which I added Spanish, Physics and Math. Yes, I might be crazy for choosing those classes, but I skipped a year of school in Switzerland and didn’t feel like teaching myself the math and physics I missed by doing that. It was fairly easy for me to get used to the teachers, classes and school system. Although I still don’t get why they write a bathroom pass for you every time you have to go pee. I still think that’s ridiculous.
Finding friends was another story. Of course, people talk to you because you’re special and foreign, but did I feel close enough to them to ask them to hang out after school? So in the beginning I mostly hung out with the other foreigners, as they called us. A good place to find friends is sports. I did three sports throughout the year and most of my friends I made there or met because of those friends. I did Field Hockey, Basketball and Track and Field. Practice was by far my favorite thing of the day (besides physics, which actually turned out to be a lot of fun). Considering I had never seen let aside held a field hockey stick before, I guess I didn’t do bad. I was not a natural talent, but I found my place on the field and in the team quickly. Basketball is a more important sport for the school, so they let me be on the team, but I mostly warmed the bench. In track, my 4x1 team and I made it to sections, which isn’t bad. Sports are great because you stay in shape (I surprisingly even lost weight, I mean we practiced every day, and still ate lots of unhealthy fast food) and you get to get out of school for games. Bus rides are both really fun and a good place to sleep.
Those friends I did make after the first burden are some of the best people I’ve ever met. They helped me not look too stupid when I didn’t know stuff. For example all the weird traditions for prom I had never heard of. They introduced me to the parking lot, where everybody hangs out. It makes sense I guess, because all of them drive.
My area representative took us foreigners on plenty of trips, which was so amazing and generous of her to do. San Francisco, Ashland, LA and more. When I wasn’t out and about with them, I met with friends and did the only things you can do in Susanville – Hike, go to the movies or hang out at someone’s house. Or I spent time with my host family, because we were all so busy throughout the week that we barely saw each other.
And before you can say Jack Robinson, the end seemed waaaaay too close. Did you ever realize, that before something ends it turns extremely good as if to show you what you’re leaving behind? Graduation was the last day for me in “the ville” as we call Susanville. I thought it was so cool to walk “the walk”, to be called up to the stage (after practicing three times, they actually pronounced most of the names correctly), and to get that cover of your diploma (the diploma actually isn’t in there yet, you get it later). Balloons were flying up into the sky and confetti was raining down on us as we threw our nicely decorated graduation caps and all, foreign or not, felt like we were finally free. Second life, second home, second family, second place my heart is rooted, best friends, all of that and much more is what I gained. I guess the prison town in northeast California wasn’t too bad after all.
This was just the tiniest insight into my exchange year, there’s so much more I could tell you. Some of it I wrote into my blog (www.sarah-did.blogspot.ch), which I gave up after a while because it was too much work and I was too lazy xD. I hope I could entertain you for a short time and maybe even help you in some way.
Peace, I’m out.