German exchange students pose with statue on The High Line in New York City
Jana (far right) poses with her friends and fellow PAXers on The High Line in 2013.

Six Years Later

Thinking back to my orientation makes all sorts of colorful memories pop up in my mind.

Six years ago, in 2013, I was one of the nervous students arriving at the airport in New York. My new friends and I talked about what made us go abroad, the goodbyes at home, and about the ten months to come. We didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. One moment later we were looking at the streets of the big city through the bus windows as we drove to the College of New Rochelle. None of us could hide their excitement and as soon as we arrived on campus, we saw that we were not the only ones. Other students from Spain, Thailand, and Mexico greeted us with smiling faces and the same enthusiasm.

Most vividly, I recall how eager I was to get to know other cultures from all around the world. I remember playing an introduction game, but not being able to understand a single word of what my Spanish partner said with her heavy accent. I also won’t forget how I danced with a group of Thais, learned more about the U.S. as my host country, and took in America through my very own eyes: the bright lights of Times Square, the campus that made me feel like an American college student, the waves in front of Liberty Island, a sweet buffet for breakfast, endless Central Park, a big auditorium, young people getting to know each other, laughs, a giraffe, and so much more…

Let’s be honest, though—participating in an exchange program involves more than smiles and optimism. Is my English good enough? Will I find friends? How will I get along with my host family? Those questions go through everyone’s head before the start of the program; the advice I would give to any new exchange student is simply not to worry too much. Easier said than done, but that’s where PAX comes in! PAX is there to help with the first wave of culture shock and to answer all the questions on your mind. If you listen to what they teach you at the orientation, I promise that you will have a great time.

And the best thing about the orientation? It’s only the start of an amazing experience!

Being back in New York six years later and interning with PAX proves that the exchange experience never really ends—that it sticks with you for a lifetime. I will always think back fondly at the opportunities I was given in New York and in Michigan, my second home.

—Jana Heineking (2013/14, Germany), hosted by the Ford family (MI)