“Coming to a new country with new people that you don’t know when you are young is challenging, but it creates autonomy within you, and you make fabulous memories.”

These are the reflective words of 16 year-old Oanez from France, who is completing her three month PSE Trimester program in Portland, OR.

“I think coming here is a very exceptional experience. It’s very interesting to discover a new country, culture, and people,” she continues.

Oanez, who is a sophomore in high school, has been able to make many discoveries and memories during her exchange experience. She is described by her Local Coordinator, April, as intelligent, confident, and aware of her surroundings.

“I remember picking Oanez up from the airport and delivering her to her wonderful host family – just like a stork! Okay, maybe not exactly! (laughs)”, shares April.

Ever since that day, Oanez and her host family have grown close and formed a special bond. When she first arrived, she was fasting in observance of Ramadan. She appreciated how open-minded and accepting her host family was from the very beginning.

“I was scared to come here because of that (fasting due to Ramadan), but my host family was open-minded and learned many things. I felt more comfortable because of them. I’m lucky because I have a wonderful host family. They are amazing, understandable, and open-minded. Without them, it would have been very difficult for me to stay here,” shares Oanez.

Drechelle, who is Oanez’s host mother, reports that the family has been smitten with her from the start and has truly appreciated her patience, desire to help, sense of humor, determination, open-mindedness, and willingness to try new things.

“Oanez is simply amazing! She is the perfect addition to our family, and we have embraced her fully. Hands down, this is the best experience we’ve had hosting a student. I honestly believe God placed her in our family for a reason.” She continues, “Oanez is extremely patient with our two-year-old daughter who is learning how to share space (laughs).”

Drechelle says that the family loves sharing ideas and thoughts with Oanez, especially during car rides to school and at the dinner table.

“It has been beautiful to learn about a different religion and country. It’s fascinating to learn about the similarities experienced even when separated thousands of miles apart!” she exclaims.

Oanez enjoys school in America because the teachers are kind, students are welcoming, and she feels that it is easier to stay focused because her school days are shorter than those in France. She explains:

“In France, there are longer breaks in between classes. I feel like I am learning more here, especially in my Spanish class. We also use more computers here in school compared to back home.”

Oanez and her host family are planning on going to the beach, visiting various restaurants, and exploring the state of Oregon before she returns to France. They also look forward to celebrating Oanez’s 16th milestone birthday in America before her departure. They recently enjoyed a trip to the Portland Zoo together.

“The weather was great, and it was nice to talk about animals and the differences between the zoos in France and America,” Drechelle shares.

Despite arriving at the end of the school year and the limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the challenges she faced, Oanez has had a positive experience and has made many fond memories with new friends and her host family. The exchange experience has impacted Oanez in positive ways, for example, helping her to become less shy and more independent.

Drechelle agrees that her family has also been impacted in very positive ways from their hosting experience. She explains:

“Hosting is an opportunity to learn a different culture, meet new people, and share a piece of who you are. It has allowed us to stop and reflect about our customs, beliefs, and traditions.”

Oanez hopes to eventually return to the United States to continue practicing her English. Her desire is to attend university, help children in Africa through a mission program, and become a notary. She looks forward to traveling extensively in the future. She especially hopes to travel toJapan, China, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, and other warm climate countries.

April closes with this message:

“Dear Oanez, I’m so honored to have been given the opportunity to meet you! I hope the memories you have made here will be cherished.”

Written by Flo Ruiz; Edited by Ann Steffen

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