Heard from Abroad: Beginnings in Puerto Rico

I have decided to leave the comfortable confines of Wichita State University this semester and embark on a new journey to a small, Catholic university in San Juan, Puerto Rico called Sacred Heart. 

It is through the National Student Exchange.

 With NSE, I pay WSU tuition to attend any school registered with the program in the United States and U.S.  territories. 

It is already interesting to experience life as an exchange student. The first night I arrived, I just hoped there was a bed waiting for me at the school.

 I had not recieved any information except my class schedule and an email that said “your accomodations are ready.” 

The second day, I knocked on every closed door in the residences looking for the exchange students.

 The Puerto Rican students had not arrived yet.

 I either found friends or I stayed in my room, staring at the lime green wall wallowing in my lonliness. Everyone kept telling me about two German exchange students and I was determined to find them or perish. 

I almost lost hope on the fifth floor until a door finally opened and I was so excited I just said, “hola,” while two girls (new friends) looked back at me wondering why I was there. They were not German. They were from Chicago. 

Later that night we went to a festival in the historical area of San Juan and it seemed like every Puero Rican showed up. We were packed like sardines and a couple times I literally could not move. 

There were fire spinners, dancers, singers, mascots with enlarged heads and tiny bodies, people on stilts, people blowing whistles and horns and pinchos (peices of chicken on a stick drizzled with barbecue sauce.)

The next day I made my first visit to the beach with my new friends — a place I am going to become familiar with. 

 I then experienced an island favorite, Pizza Cono. It is bread in the shape of a cone with cheese, vegetables, sauce and meat stuffed inside. Other than the waves stealing my Forever 21 sunglasses, the day was a success. 

The first week I have learned that as an exchange student, your experience depends on your vulnerability. I have to trust people, but also remind myself I have known them for two days. 

Flexibility is crucial for survival and realizing loneliness, excitement, confusion, frustration and growth are all common and healthy symptoms of the experience.