Marta Vázquez: a reflection on the school year in the U.S.

Alice and Bill Johnston greet Marta at the airport.

  About 30 years ago, Voorhees residents Alice and Bill Johnston hosted Ángel Vázquez as a foreign exchange student from Spain. He attended Eastern as a senior and graduated here.

  Throughout the following years, Vázquez maintained a close relationship with the Johnston family. When he had his daughter, Marta, he was eager for Marta to become closer with the Johnstons and to potentially follow in her father’s path.

  Marta did build a strong relationship with the Johnstons. “They’re like my grandparents,” she said. When her father asked her if she wanted to study in the US, she said she would only do it with the Johnstons. They agreed and the journey began.

  In order to study in the United States, her family had to go through an agency which arranged everything from travel to regular check-ups at her host home to see how she is doing.

  Marta arrived in the US at the end of August, 2018. The first month was really exciting for her. “I really didn’t miss my parents; I was meeting new people every single day,” she said. The excitement of being in a new country allowed little room to be homesick. But  as time went on, she missed her parents and home a bit more.

  The adjustment to life in Voorhees went smoothly for Marta, socially and academically. For starters, she already knew her host family, which was a great advantage to  the adjustment to the U.S. She has also made friends very easily. “I have friends in every class,” she said.

 Despite having very few exams in Spain, she was able to adjust to the frequent tests and quizzes here, even maintaining a 93 GPA. “I love the school,” she said. She likes her teachers, whom are always happy and helpful. She said Ms. Walker, in particular “makes class very fun.”

  She also enjoys the wide variety of classes to choose from at Eastern. “We don’t have all those choices [about classes],” she said. One class she really enjoys is her fashion class. “I like fashion because I love creating new things and fashion inspires my creativity,” she said.

  Marta is also active in school sports. She did winter and spring track, a new sport for her. Despite it being her first year involved in track, she won five medals.

  Aside from school, there are many other differences between life in Spain and in the US. Among those differences is the weather. “It gets really cold here,” she said. It also rarely snows where she lives.

  Another difference between life in Spain and the US is the lifestyle, one example being food. “Americans put salt and pepper on everything,” she said. Food here is also served in very large portions compared to Spain and leftovers are always brought home. Tips are also rarely given in Spain, but are crucial in America.

  Marta also described clothing as a major contrast in lifestyle. She says people in school seem very casual, with guys always wearing sweatpants and sneakers, and not much difference in girls.

  One thing she was pleasantly surprised with was the friendliness of Americans. She thought Americans would be close-minded because of the common negative notion abroad about Americans. This was not Marta’s experience though. “You guys are really friendly,” she said.

  Marta has seen a lot of the US since she arrived in August. So far, she has visited 10 states, including four trips to New York. She has also gone skiing with the Johnstons’ family. She has experienced the life of a true American teenage girl, attending events such as Cotillion and Sweet Sixteen parties.

  Marta’s hosts, Alice and Bill, have overall enjoyed hosting Marta. There are differences though between when they hosted Marta and Marta’s father. The first time, they were younger and had three kids of their own, two of which attending Eastern with Ángel.

   This time, Marta is the only child in the household. Even though Marta had to adjust on her own, they believe she adjusted smoothly and fits in well. She learned a lot about American culture, improved her language, and made friends that she will stay in touch with. “It was a wonderful experience,” Alice said.

  Marta agrees that the overall experience has been great. She has learned so much about American culture and language, while also gaining skills and memories that will last for a lifetime. She highly encourages studying abroad for anyone that is interested. “I’m really glad I did this,” she said.