Fifteen year-old Joana is preparing for her return to Spain after spending the last semester attending high school in Anaheim, CA. Her host family, local coordinator, school, and community are sad to see her go, but they hope this isn’t the last they will see of her.

During the past five months, Joana has been very active in her school, host family, and community. In school, she joined several athletic teams, including volleyball and basketball. Being a part of the volleyball team was a great way for her to meet people at the beginning of the school year.

“It was a good experience and an easy way to make friends when I came,” she shares.

Joana also made the Junior Varsity basketball team at her school. “This was her first time ever in any kind of organized sport, so we were excited for her,” recounts Barbara, her host mother.

“I joined the basketball team because I love athletics, and I used to play with my friend when I was younger. The experience has been great, I learned a lot, and I made so many friends!” exclaims Joana.

In fact, she rates the basketball games as some of her best experiences on the PSE program.

Joana also became involved as a volunteer in her community. She participated in numerous community service activities including cleaning up a school, feeding the homeless, and assisting in a Halloween Trunk or Treat booth at her church.

“It was an enriching experience to help people who need it and contribute to the community,” reflects Joana. “These experiences made me grow as an individual, mature, get to know myself, and become more independent.”

According to Barbara, Joana, who she describes as “an intelligent, vivacious student who is open to new experiences,”  has bonded and assimilated well into their family, which consists of her host brother, their two dogs, and their gecko lizard.

“Our relationship is one of trust, honesty, and openness,” says Barbara. Together, they were able to share in many memorable trips and experiences.

“We went to Palm Springs, Solvang, and the beach. We really enjoyed the Living Desert Zoo and the chocolate store in Solvang. We also took Joana to a dog beach and she frolicked in the water with our dogs.”

Barbara explains further, “She fit in well with our church’s teen group and went on several activities with them, including a murder mystery dinner.”

Among her many enjoyable experiences at school, Joana especially relished spending time with her friends at the school Homecoming dance. When asked to compare her life and culture in Spain to that of the U.S., she shares:

“American culture is pretty similar to the Spanish culture, but school is very different. In Spain, we don’t have athletics, clubs, or other activities like dances in the school.”

Veronica, Joana’s Local Coordinator, shares:

“Joana is an exceptional young lady. She is fun, full of energy, and wants to be included in as many family, school and volunteer functions as possible. She has such a caring character that she fits in, in any situation, both at school and the host family. She adapts very well, and to see her now, she has really embraced the whole American culture immersion that PSE has afforded her.”

Joana had never been to America prior to embarking on the PSE program and was excited to experience a life change.

“I was looking for an exchange experience to get to know a new culture and get out of my normal routine for a while,” she shares.  She hopes to return to America either next year or in college. “I would like to study something related to math or science, and I would like to have a good job and travel around the world,” she says.

Joana made quite an impact on her host family, school, and her community during her five months on the PSE program.

“We hope to see Joana again when either we visit her, or she comes back on vacation. We love hosting, it gives us a glimpse of another culture. It was wonderful to open our home to a person who was open to another culture.  Joana was so nice and caring and had a great sense of humor. We are definitely going to miss her. I hope she does keep in touch with us. I know she made many close friends and connections through church, school and sports.  Everyone here will miss her!” says Barbara.

Veronica says that she will miss Joana’s smile and positive energy. She leaves Joana with these parting words:

“Joana, you are definitely a very special young lady. You have a great personality and are a great achiever at school. I know that you will be successful in the future. I wish you the best.”

We concur.

Written by Flo Ruiz; Edited by Ann Steffen

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