An immersive experience: Bexley exchange students return with new perspectives

Senior Zach Goldsand (fourth from left) is welcomed to Taiwan with other exchange students in a cultural learning activity. (Photo courtesy of Zach Goldsand)

On their own in a foreign country for almost a year, at first with no friends, no family and no familiarity—nonetheless, three Bexley students were able to turn the unfamiliar into a comfortable home. 

Senior Zach Goldsand, senior Bethany Kok and junior Fisher Ireland had the opportunity to experience life in new countries, indulging in unique cultures and learning skills that will influence the rest of their lives.

Goldsand said he decided to live in Taiwan for 10 months when he enrolled in a Rotary Youth Exchange Program.

“I thought it would bring a lot of value to live outside of Bexley and on my own for a year, where I don’t have my support system and a safety net,” Goldsand said.

He explained it was a valuable experience, and he learned a lot of personal skills that will help him later on in life.

“I feel a lot more independent,” Goldsand said. “I am a lot more ready for the college experience because I have already had the experience of living away from my parents.”

He said he didn’t suffer much from homesickness when he first arrived in Taiwan.

“In those first couple months, there is so much going on that you just aren’t thinking about home that much,” Goldsand said.

He added that toward the fourth month of his trip, there were a few moments when he began to adjust to his daily routine, causing him to feel homesick. However, he said he felt the most perplexed when he came back to the U.S.

“Returning is more difficult than going there,” Goldsand said. “When you come back, you expect to get back into the groove of things, but everyone  and everything you know is different.”

Goldsand said during his stay in Taiwan, he got to visit many different cities along the west coast such as Taichung City, Tainan City and Kaohsiung City.

He added he was also able to explore the city he stayed in, Taipei, throughout his entire year. There was a metro system and plenty of buses allowing him to travel anywhere in the city, Goldsand explained.

“My commute to school was two hours,” he said. “While I was doing that commute, I would take random stops and explore a bit.”

Goldsand said the culture and school system of Taiwan is very different from that of the U.S. He explained that in school, the food was very good, and instead of the students switching between classrooms, the teachers moved while the students stayed put.

“You are with the same kids all day, which is cool because you get to know your classmates really well, so I had a lot of friends in school,” Goldsand said.

Every Tuesday and Thursday after Chinese class, he said he and his friends would eat dinner at a local dumpling restaurant.

“The owners all knew us and knew what we wanted,” Goldsand said. “It was our special place to eat during the exchange year.”

Senior Bethany Kok (left) speaks on a panel at the University of Banja Luka about global cultures. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Kok)

Similar to Goldsand, Kok also chose to enroll in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.

Kok went to Bosnia for her exchange year and lived in the second biggest city, Banja Luka, for 10 months, she said.

Kok explained she decided to take an exchange year in Bosnia because of her love for traveling, desire to expand her worldview and eagerness to learn about different cultures. 

However, she said a negative incident involving her friend Kai, a Puerto Rican exchange student, made it clear that some people were less open-minded than her. 

“People would stare, try to touch him and his hair,” Kok said. “It was eye-opening for sure.”

Kok explained that because Kai looked different from the Bosnian students, he was harassed and stared at so often that his exchange program had to talk to the school. The instance with Kai has helped her become more aware of prejudices around the world, she said.

Bosnia was her fourth choice behind Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, but in the end, she was happy she got to go there, she added.

“I’m really glad I ended up going to Bosnia because it is not a typical tourist site,” Kok said. 

While in Bosnia, Kok said she also got to explore other countries including Croatia, Austria, France and Italy.

Junior Fisher Ireland (far left) visits the Palace of Versailles with friends during his European tour, a part of his exchange in the Czech Republic. (Photo courtesy of Fisher Ireland)

Ireland, who lived in the Czech Republic for 11 months, also got to do a lot of traveling and was able to visit roughly 30 cities all over the country, he explained.

Ireland said he experienced culture shock going to the Czech Republic and, similar to Goldsand, even greater reverse culture shock when he returned to the U.S.

“It felt so weird that everyone was speaking English,” he said. “Coming back and hearing English just wasn’t normal for about a month.”

Ireland said some of his peers in the Czech Republic resented him because they couldn’t travel across the world like he could. However, Ireland said he has brought many valuable lessons to the U.S. and uses them in his daily life. 

“It gave me a chance to teach myself how to do things,” Ireland said. “But now that I am here, I do miss the guys that I met there—my friends.”

Avatar photo
Dylan Horn
Dylan Horn is a junior at Bexley High School and a reporter for the Torch student newspaper. He is also a varsity Cross-country and Track runner, and member of the high school’s hope squad.