Studying abroad can be a fun and different adventure for many American teenagers. One Las Vegas teen who has embraced that adventure is Erika Reiter.
The 16-year-old student at The Meadows School is spending her junior year in the province of Leon, in northwest Spain, as a part of AFS-USA, a nonprofit organization that specializes in a variety of intercultural programs in more than 40 countries.
Reiter had thought about studying abroad, but she had never really considered turning the idea into a reality. However, she was influenced by two people who convinced her that traveling and studying abroad was the opportunity of a lifetime.
When Reiter’s father was in high school, he traveled from Germany to the United States and spent a year as a foreign exchange student.
“The way (my father) describes (the experience) as life changing has always made me want to go abroad,” she said. “Also, hosting an exchange student last year and seeing how much he loved the experience also convinced me I wanted the same thing.”
The Reiter family hosted a student from Mexico, Mario Gamboa, through the same program in 2013. She said sharing part of her life with Gamboa was the strongest influence in her decision to study abroad.
“I’d always thought studying abroad would be a cool and exciting experience, but it felt like something that I could live without doing,” she said. “Hosting definitely changed that.”
Although the decision to live temporarily in another part of the world was challenging, Erika found comfort in choosing Spain.
She has nearly 10 years of Spanish language experience in school and loves European culture.
“I am in love with the food in Spain; everything is so delicious,” she said. “I also really enjoy the people. Everyone has been incredibly friendly and welcoming.”
However, after spending her whole life living in the United States and most of it in Las Vegas, lifestyle changes in Spain have been unavoidable.
“In my city, most people live in apartments rather than houses and they walk much more than they drive,” she explained. “Also, in Spain, you have to be 18 to get a (driver’s) license. Here, they eat lunch and dinner much later.”
Aside from the everyday cultural changes, Erika has developed some new observations about life.
“In America, everyone is very rushed and in a hurry to do things and it feels normal. A common saying is, ‘Life is short,’ ” she said. “But in Spain, they say, ‘Life is long.’ People are always saying things like, ‘Oh, don’t worry. Do things slowly.’ “
Initially, Reiter was nervous about meeting new people. But she has warmed up to opportunities to make new friends.
When Reiter first arrived in Spain in September, she felt a bit overwhelmed and even unintentionally excluded by her peers at times because of the language barrier. However, as she became more and more familiar with Spanish, she found it easier to get to know others and develop friendships.
Reiter developed a meaningful friendship with a fellow exchange student from Austria, Sarah Wiener, who is also spending the year in Leon. The two bonded over shared obstacles and memories that come with living in a foreign country.
“She’s a great friend … and hanging out with her is always an adventure,” she said. “No matter where she goes, people love her.”
After just a few months in Spain, Reiter has experienced some life-changing events. Who knows what tales she’ll tell after nine months.