AYA students enjoy the opportunity to see the real America. Sometimes their experiences can seem like a movie, but they are also important to show that the U.S. is too massive and varied to conform strictly to media stereotypes and Hollywood misconceptions. For example, Diana, a high school exchange student from Italy, provides the following submission about her adventures living on a ranch with her host family in Arkansas.
A Ranching Story
I’m living with my American host family on a ranch. They have eight horses, and both my host Mom, Misti, and my host sister, Tana, are competitive barrel racers. In Italy we ride English style; so when I first arrived here, I wasn’t used to the Western style of riding. The saddle was too big, the stirrups and the reins too long. Moreover, in Italy we don’t use vocal commands such as “whoa.”
It took me a while to start feeling comfortable. But since then I’ve improved a lot. I started practicing barrels and poles; then a few months or so later, I took part in an actual barrel race competition in the novice category. I placed fourth! It has been really amazing going with my family to rodeos almost every weekend; it really has been wonderful to be able to participate instead of only watching the competitions.
Having eight horses is not only about riding. My host sister and I feed them every day, giving them water and hay. Also, we take care of seven dogs, seven cats and four goats. It has been a big, huge change from my previous city life back home in Italy.
Recently a family friend needed help to work his cattle. He owns more than a hundred cows and needed to give them shots. So early one morning we traveled to his ranch in Saratoga, Arkansas. There we rode down the pasture to find the cows, gathered them together and started moving them to the cattle chute at the front of the ranch. I’ve never felt so like a cowgirl! I was living a western movie, driving cattle across the land.
I am living a lot of experiences here that I would never have in Italy. Coming to Arkansas and living with my host family and friends here really has given me a different perspective on the world. It has helped me grow and made me change. It’s something I will never forget. I love my host family; I love Arkansas!
Thanks, Diana, for sharing your experience as an AYA student living on a working ranch. What an amazing opportunity! America is a very diverse nation, and your story provides beautiful insight into a way of life that might be a bit exotic, even to many U.S. citizens across the country. We hope your words will encourage many students to consider high school exchange opportunities—and inspire many Americans to open their homes to host great students like you—long into the future!