Hark, An Exchange!

Vanny Nelson, Guest Writer

For the longest time, I said that going to the Bahamas to learn about marine biology was the best thing I had ever done; that changed the second I went on the Harkness exchange. It was one of those experiences that I know I will never forget. From the second we landed to the time we said goodbye, I felt welcomed into the life of my host and his family. My host family took the time to bring me to many different places and show me all parts of their daily lives in Mexico. One of the things I remember most is how much they fed me and how good the food was – it is nothing like the “Mexican” food we have in America. They also had activities planned for the weekends and took the time to show us around Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area.

During the first weekend we were there, we went to Sayulita which is an older town an hour or so outside of Puerto Vallarta. We got to see a less touristy side of Mexico, and I enjoyed comparing my experiences with life back home. The teenagers in Mexico have a lot more independence than many teenagers in America do, and it was really fun to be able to go off and see what people our age do in their free time. There was a lot of time spent at the beach, and I went a few times to the Malecón which is in the older section of Puerto Vallarta and has many shops and restaurants along a boardwalk lining the beach.

As for school, Harkness Institute is very different than Pingree. There are four classrooms on the first floor and a few more classrooms below along with an open area where people gathered during lunch and breaks. There were a few classrooms in a building next door, but I only had art history in that building. The classes there are very small, and you stay with the same people all day which was nice because it was easy to get to know the people in my class. It was interesting to see what they were learning too. I thought it was really fascinating that they took two history classes, Mexican history and US history. A lot of what they were learning in US history I have not even learned about yet. They also had a class called Ethics and Values, and I thought it was amazing that they could have in depth discussions about philosophy and ethics in fluent English.

If anyone was to ask me whether they should apply for the Harkness Exchange, I would tell them go for it. You learn so much about another culture and yourself. I learned how much Spanish I really knew after taking it since 1st grade, I learned how much I enjoy traveling and experiencing new places, and I learned how wonderful it is to make connections with people in other parts of the world. I think that this exchange would be great for anyone who is open to new experiences and people and who are willing to push their boundaries a little. If you have the chance to go, take it because you will never regret it.