Ups, downs of exchange student experience: Helen, her journey in Spain


Photo courtesy of Helen Pruitt

Helen Pruitt is a senior here, and during her junior year, she studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain. The trip wasn’t always easy for Pruitt, as communication was difficult in the beginning, but she came out of it with many meaningful relationships and a new perspective on Spanish culture. 

She traveled with a program called The Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE). She wanted to do this program because she received a scholarship from them, and it was a good way for her to experience a different culture while learning the language at the same time.

Pruitt said the day she was supposed to travel to Spain was extremely stressful. 

“I actually got my visa in the mail the morning of my flight, and I didn’t think it would arrive on time,” Pruitt said. 

She ended up rescheduling her flight because she didn’t have her visa at the time, and wasn’t sure if it would come by the time of her departure.  

On the day of her rescheduled flight, she flew into Madrid by herself, which was the first time she had traveled on an airplane alone. Once she arrived in Spain, Pruitt was picked up by CIEE and taken to a building where all the other exchange students were. 

Everyone had a chance to unwind and get to know each other, and many of the students formed close friendships with one another. 

“Other students had time to settle in and meet the kids…” Prutt remembered. 

Pruitt was then picked up from the CIEE building by her host family, and they traveled to their home outside of Sevilla. 

Within her host family, Pruitt had three host sisters, a host mom and a host dad. 

One aspect that was helpful for Pruitt was interacting with her youngest host sister, who was seven at the time. She felt it gave her a full range of the Spanish cultural experience, and was a valuable learning experience to have basic conversation with a younger person. 

“[It] was really nice because it was someone to talk to, and they really helped me really immerse myself in the culture,” Pruitt said.

The most difficult part of being an exchange student for Pruitt was the language barrier in school. 

“At first I had no idea what anyone was telling me,” Pruitt said. “It took a few months, but by spring time I was more comfortable in school.”

Pruitt’s host family was her favorite part of being an exchange student. 

“They were just the sweetest people ever, and they wanted me to experience Spanish culture, and really help me,” Pruitt said, “and I feel like my host sisters and I had just an amazing, amazing relationship.” 

Overall, Pruitt recommends partaking in an exchange program. She feels like she gained many important experiences, all while learning the language and about the culture of Spain.