Catching Up With Durango’s Out-bounder Exchange Student Joe Somrak

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Corbin Miller, Reporter

By: Corbin Miller

High School is a time for students to try new things, learn about who they are as a person, and immerse themselves into real life experiences. While most students choose the traditional pathway of staying in HS for four years, a select few choose to embark on an exchange to a foreign country.

DHS Jr. Joe Somrak left for his exchange in France one week after school picked up from summer vacation in Durango. Going on exchange introduces students to new cultures and life experiences, while helping them transition to a life with more freedom.

“During my first week I was being rushed around doing things, going to my high school to fill out paperwork, getting a ‘coif’ (a fancy, french haircut), adapting to the time change, and also going to school, which was really scary,” said Somrak.

Somrak’s exchange is sponsored by Rotary International, an organization that organizes foreign exchanges, and arranged three families for him to stay with during his time in France. Living with different families allows him to experience multiple different views of the French culture. Similarly, Rotary exchange students in Durango also live with three different families to get the most out of their exchange.

 Having several  families during a students’ exchange can never replace the one they have back home, but the connections students will make with them last forever.

“With my host family,  I have to adapt to their ways, respect their rules, and blend in almost everything with their schedule. It is very difficult to do this. However, it’s very rewarding when I do a good job of it. My [host] family has started to feel more and more like my family each day and it feels fantastic. I miss my family at home terribly and I have had quite a bit of homesickness thus far,” said Somrak.

A big impact that going on exchange has on students is its new, sometimes unfamiliar, language, along with adjusting to an entirely new culture. This can bring about a major culture shock to students like Somrak who become part of a new country.

“I’ve found that there are a ton of little [things] that make France different. The French really seem to pride themselves in their food and good health. I’m very impressed with how conscious they are about maintaining good health and eating healthy food,” said Somrak.

The language boundary that presents itself to students during exchange poses a major hurdle during their first few weeks. Having to adjust and learn the culture’s language, while trying to connect with other students and community, can be very challenging.

But exchange students don’t have to face the language boundary alone, because there are other exchange students who face the same challenges.

“I have met up with other exchange students in my Rotary district and we have a lot of fun together. We go to the movies, walk around town, and go shopping usually. The public transportation makes it easy to hang out with friends, and I seem to have closer bonds with other exchange kids because they are going through exactly what I’m going through,” said Somrak.

Engaging with many other students and the rest of the culture helps exchange students, like Somrak, quickly learn the language and adapt to the new culture.

“My progress with the language has increased so much. I am only 2 months in, and I can already understand about 50% of everything that’s said. Speaking is progressively becoming easier, and not once have I felt burnt out on learning the language and the culture,” said Somrak.

Somrak’s exchange has been filled with many exciting experiences, and many more to come. All his experiences are helping him prepare for the real world after high school.

“The amount of independence that I have been forced to practice thus far has taught me so much. I’m learning things first-hand that I never would’ve learned at DHS. The language, culture, social aspects, and most importantly – mental lessons – that I’m learning here, I believe will be extremely helpful for me during the rest of my life,” said Somrak.