Home from the Range and the Confederate land - you learn with time not to call a Southerner a Yankee. Ive had thetimeto contemplate what my overseas experience was really like. In July 76 I left Australia to spend a year in Oklahoma as an A.F.S. (American Field Service) exchange student.
Oklahoma is not quite The Deep South, but any suggestion of a Northern allegiance will be quickly denied in a slow, Southern drawl. Oklahoma is a flat, oil-rich state which is definitely considered to be back-woodsy. It is a very friendly, easy-going state. Its main distinguishing feature is its weather. As the locals say, If you dont like Oklahoma weather, wait a minute, cause its the ten-pin of tornado alley, and violent weather is not uncommen in spring.
The exchange student experience is hard to explain because it involves so many different things: having to jump off the cliffs at the local lake on the insistence of your friends and then having them in fits over your terrified expression; going to all the football games and showing your friends that you can be just as big a loudmouth as they are; speaking up in class, creating fits of laughter over your accent and being begged to say Howdy all; raiding the local supermarket on Halloween dressed as werewolves; frequently doing a midnight-to dawn session to finish an assignment that was left to the last minute and then the next day trying to convince the teacher that you didnt get it done because youre an exchange student, and you speak not good English - without success; being towed down the main street on a sled behind a bus after a big snow; or introducing an American student to one of your teachers as an exchange student from Czechoslovakia, and watching the teachers frustrated efforts trying to communicate with him.
This is just a small part of the experience - not always happy, but always worthwhile. You get three main things out of being an exchange student: you get to see another country, but more importantly, you become part of another family and community, and you also get to met and make friendships with many exchange students from other countries. Its an experience which gives you a strong feeling of worldfriendliness and understanding and youre never the same after it.
So... next time I meet an exchange student Im going to get him or her to say Howre ya going, mate, orright? and see what its like to be on the other side of the fun.
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