Marina San Miguel visited Russia in 2013. She speaks about a deeper understanding of the role of culture on values, ongoing interest in going abroad and gave some advice on expectations on going abroad and learning from hard experiences.
Tell me who you are, where you are from, what high school and then which country or city you visited.
My name is Marina San Miguel, and I'm from Pennsylvania, Coatesville, and I go to P.A. Leadership Charter School, and I went to Russia last year, southern Russia
What is the biggest thing you got out of your trip there, things that you come back and are like “I am so much better at...”
Well, its really hard to say because I think I got a lot out of it. The most typical things you'd expect to get out of an exchange program are language and cultural understanding. Before I left I thought culture was somewhat superficial, you know, everyone was the same they just acted differently in certain ways just because of culture, but then I went and I realized that it was a lot deeper than that. It's really just even the way you think and your values, your core values, are very influenced by culture. It's not necessary better or worse, like AFS always says, but its also very important to be aware of that.
There's language and Russian is a really beautiful language and I love it and I am so happy to have learned it, and culture. Also, on a personal level, I got to know my own strengths and weaknesses. I think, for now, college and everything will be so easy after having lived in a country with a different host family, trying to make new friends and get along with an entirely different set of parents and everything. You learn about yourself and you become stronger as a person.
So the idea of going to college is not as scary?
It's not scary at all compared to what I just did.
Who did you meet in your host country, besides your host family. Are there folks that you've met over there that you have kept in touch with?
I had friends in school and stuff who were Russian and I keep in touch with them a little bit, not super much. A lot of times I really made friends with AFS students and there are some who I still Skype with and I talk with who are from different countries. And that also is also really, really nice, because I didn't just learn about Russia, now I know about all these other cultures too.
How did your experience in Russia influence what you might study in college or how do you think that is going to carry forward.
I don't know what I am going to study, but I am already looking at further exchange opportunities. For college, I would like to learn Spanish, and then after college I definitely would like to live in Europe for, I don't know, some period of time, a few years at the very least. And so, I am already looking at opportunities for all of that. And, I always, kind of, wanted to to it, but now that I've been in Russia its become a definite thing I want to do.
It's not just Russia, it's like the whole idea.
It's just everywhere, because once you start to see these things it's, I don't know..., it's really hard to stop, you just want to experience more and go different places, because it's a like whole new world that has been opened up to you.
So for students just starting out on their experience, do you have anything you would like to tell them, or advice you would give them?
It's not going to be what you expect, I think is the most thing. Even when I went in, I didn't have many expectations, but even without expectations, I just found myself looking at what had happened and I realized “Wow” this is not at all what I had imagined it. That's not a bad thing, that's a good thing. And even if at a certain time you'll think, “Wow, this is pointless, I'm not learning anything, I don't get along with anybody, this really isn't going as a I wanted it.” Even the hard things, you'll look back and realize “Well, I still went through that” and now I've gotten so much better as a person and now I've learned all this stuff and so it's still good, even if it's really hard.