Sofia Luna Gonzalez enjoying her junior year at Putnam County High School
HENNEPIN —áPutnam County High School is hosting an exchange student from Madrid, Spain, this school year.
Sofia Luna Gonzalez, who goes by Luna, chose to spend her junior year in America to get firsthand experience about the culture and the English language.
Before arriving here in August, Gonzalez had never been to the U.S., and at 16 years old, she admits the decision to leave home for the school year was a “scary one.”
But once she learned just how welcoming Putnam County was, it really put her at ease, and she’s been enjoying her stay.
Gonzalez’ biggest adjustments have been the food and moving to a much smaller community.
She said in Spain, much of their food is homemade.
“We cook a lot,” she said.
While there are plenty of fast-food options where she lives in Spain, it’s very rare they eat out compared to how often they do in America.
Also, when Gonzalez learned she would be staying with the Erik and Alexis Cwikla family in the small town of Hennepin (population 757), she was shocked at just how small it was. “I said, ‘That’s like country. Like real country,’” she said with a laugh.
“In Putnam County, everything is spread out and the towns are small. Also, there’s no public transport. You need a car, but students can’t drive, so it’s super hard.”
But it seems small-town life has grown on her. She’s come to love the small towns and says “they’re super cute.” The insects, however, are not something she’s gotten used to.
Gonzalez has taken interest in her classes at Putnam County High School. She especially enjoys sociology, foods and journalism, which are extracurricular courses no student would find in Spain.
Gonzalez said there’s no extracurricular offered where she’s from and no school clubs or sports.
“I like them, because there’s more activity, and it’s easier to make friends,” she said.
Gonzalez played on the volleyball team and is practicing for a role in the fall play. She looks forward to joining the wrestling team, and maybe the track team this spring.
One of her favorite memories made so far during her stay was going to the Sadie Hawkins Dance with friends.
Her message to students who are considering an exchange program is to “just do it.”
“It may seem super scary, but it’s worth it. Maybe it’s hard like you’re missing everything, but in the end, it’s so worth it,” she said. “It’s one year. It’s not so long. When you think about it, it’s already gone.”
Gonzalez was placed at Putnam County High School through International Cultural Exchange Services, which is an accredited cultural exchange agency.
Putnam County native Andrea Crew is a placement coordinator and field manager for the organization. She said she is always looking for host families for the program.
“Being a host family is like traveling without leaving home,” she said. “To bring a student with another culture, language and world perspective into your home, it not only gives them an American experience but allows you to experience their traditions and values they bring from their home countries and their families.”