Switched Up

An exchange student shares about their transition from living in an island in Spain to Texas.


With only a backpack and suitcase, Senior Santiago Von Waberer Bueno made his way out of the plane into the Dallas International Airport, ready to meet the host family he would be living with for the school year. 

The wait had been a long one, deterred from the events of COVID-19, but he was finally here. And while he was exhausted from the 16 hours of flying from his home Majorca, an island off of Spain, excitement fueled him. For the past couple of years, the idea of being a foreign exchange student was appealing, especially after his older brother had the opportunity in Idaho. Now, after months of paperwork and hope, his time had finally come. 

He could see his host family as he walked through the doors into the baggage claim. Despite the video calls where they had initially talked, this was his first time truly meeting them. His two foster brothers stood alongside their parents, and the family held a colorful sign welcoming him to the United States. 

This wasn’t his first time in the country since he has visited California before, though it will be his first time living there for a long period of time. A short trip in California cannot expose a student to the United States culture nearly as much as living with an American family. 

Santiago grew up in the Island of Majorca, off of Spain, a famous vacation destination and an island of many sights and beautiful scenes of nature. Majorca has a rich culture and lively social life. While Santiago is often introduced as ‘from Spain,’ he’s aware that there’s a big difference between what people tend to imagine his life is like back at home, opposed from what it really is. 

“If you go from Majorca to mainland Spain, if you aren’t familiar, it’s like a different country,” Von Waberer Bueno said. “Spain as a whole is very culturally diverse due to Spain originally being made up of different kingdoms. Because of that, each part has very different cultures, so … on Mainland Spain you can find different languages, food, how the people look and dress, [and] how the people talk.” 

Even then, people still tend to feel differently about Majorca. Perhaps all they can think of is their trip to the Island four years ago, or pictures of the gorgeous scenery. While Von Waberer Bueno admits that part of the lifestyle is having fun and enjoying yourself, it’s much more than that. 

“A lot of people think Majorica is where you party. And, it’s partially true. Because that’s [how] a lot of people earn [their income],” Santiago said. “But it has culture and things that people don’t even realise.” 


And now he’s immersed into the life of a Texan, a location he didn’t expect. “This is a region that speaks a bit of Spanish and normally they choose the most northern that they can go,” Santiago said. “Idaho, Michigan, and New York are the most common.” 

While Von Waberer Bueno couldn’t choose where he was staying since that part was up to which host family chose to take him in, he wasn’t disappointed at all when he found out where he would stay. Though Von Waberer Bueno has enjoyed the experience so far, at times he’s been taken aback by American culture. 

“They expect me to eat pineapple pizza. It’s just terrible,” Santiago said. “When the fruit goes into the pizza, then I’m completely lost. It’s not natural.”

Paper plates confuse him, as well.  

“People [in Majorca] like to eat with fancy plates,” Santiago said. “It’s just something we use when you really cannot use normal dishes. Nobody sells them a lot because they are expensive to sell, because they are highly toxic.” 

Of course, his time in America isn’t just school and learning about the culture, but it also means Von Waberer Bueno is away from his family for a long period of time in an unfamiliar country. 

“You have to take care of yourself alone,” Santiago said. “You’re in a continent [where] you really don’t know anyone, so you cannot say, ‘Hey mom can you fix this,’ or ‘Today I can’t do the laundry’. If I don’t do the laundry I don’t have clothes.”

Although Von Waberer Bueno isn’t completely on his own and has the support of his host family, it’s not the same dynamic. There’s a degree of independence that comes with living with a family he didn’t know merely a few months earlier. 

“It’s taking care of yourself and learning a lot, because you’re completely out of your comfort zone,” Santiago said. “Of course it’s going to be sad sometimes, but it’s mainly going to be great.”