The Australian Exchange Program was the best experience I’ve ever had. The friendships I made with my host and the other girls at St. Peter’s Girls’ School are incredibly special. I’m sure my fellow participants at Kent Place would agree: We never wanted the two months spent with our new buddies to end!
Before the program began, I was asked multiple times: “What if you and your buddy don’t get along?” This was my only a worry as I filled out the application. But because the first part of the exchange took place on familiar territory — my house and KPS — I was able to be myself while getting to know Steph. From the second we were matched up, she and I were texting, Snapchatting, and FaceTiming, so when we met in person, we didn’t feel like strangers. She became almost a sister to me.
One of my biggest concerns about being a host was how I was going to balance my workload. However, Steph participated in swimming at Kent Place, which gave me some free time to work after school a few days a week. I loved being a host, and it was great being able to share my daily experiences with someone. After numerous dance parties, visits to New York City (and getting lost on the subway), and spending all day with each other for a month, we formed a wonderful bond.
This was also the case with our exchange group as a whole. There were four KPS girls matched with four Saints girls, who arrived the last week of winter break. We all decided to meet up before school started. Over those few days before school, we eight girls got to know each other pretty well. I found this super helpful, because not only did the Australian girls get to see familiar faces in their first few days here, but when we KPS girls were in Australia, we had three people looking out for us besides our own individual hosts.
The month spent there was one of the most amazing, fun, and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. Beforehand, the thought of traveling anywhere without my family was daunting, but I was also excited to be reunited with my best friends in Australia. Once there, the structure of the program meant we felt less like tourists and more like people fully involved with the culture. Our daily interactions with the naturally friendly people in Adelaide, where we stayed, made our time there really immersive.
Everyone at St. Peter’s helped with our transition. Coming into the school, I had my cohort of seven girls, but the larger school community went above and beyond to make all of us Americans feel welcome. Being a student there for a month was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The main difference I noticed between Kent Place and Saints was that the girls there take many more classes, a result of their very wide range of electives. The structure of their classes was also different from ours, and they have uniforms. We wore knee-length, blue-plaid dresses, and during lunch and recess were required to wear a straw hat — very different from the Kent Place dress code, which allows us to select from our own closets, within reason.
Australia’s world-famous wildlife lived up to my expectations. At wildlife parks, kangaroos roam freely and koalas are there to cuddle. It was also fun to participate in sports; I played touch rugby with Steph and also played in a softball tournament. We ended up winning the championship!
The two months I spent doing the Australian Exchange Program had a huge impact on me. For example, I now have an international sisterhood. I know that even on the other side of the world, I can trust those girls with anything. I’m beyond grateful for the experience: I got to see my own world and another’s through a new lens, and I grew to be more independent. I can’t wait to visit Australia again!