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The switch: Changing places, changing lives
Claudia Lerma Casa, left, and Rachel DuBois Nethercut
Most importantly, we experienced the value of having supportive families and friends on the other side of the world.

by Rachel DuBois Nethercut and Claudia Lerma Casa

The first impressions we had arriving at each other´s homes in Valencia, Spain, and in Minneapolis 10 months ago included: "I cannot believe that I am actually here. Everything looks just like the movies. The houses and yards look just like the Simpsons" and "Wow, people really do eat dinner at 11 p.m. here."

Everything started a year and a half ago when the two of us, who both love to travel, were put in contact through a mutual friend named Jane. She was the bridge who brought us together. Jane had lived in Valencia two years ago on a study-abroad program run by AFS Intercultural Programs. There, she went to school and met Claudia. When Jane returned to Minneapolis Southwest High School, she met Rachel. Both of us became more interested in studying abroad after hearing about her experience.

After Jane's introduction we "friended" each other on Facebook and started chatting about languages, theater, and our desires to travel and learn. After exchanging a few emails, it became clear what we were both thinking: Let's switch places!

Everyone was initially excited but very unsure. We heard comments like, "It seems like a neat idea, but doesn´t sound like something you can do on your own."

But once the idea had been planted, it wasn´t going to go away. We would have to obtain two visas, be accepted into two foreign high schools, convince our parents and be able to afford the plane tickets. We put ourselves to work immediately. After hundreds of emails back and forth, trips to the Chicago and Madrid embassies for last-minute student visas and meetings with public school coordinators, we made it happen. Claudia arrived in Minneapolis in August and Rachel arrived in Valencia in September.

After 10 months, our perspectives about families, friends and the passage of time far from home have changed us in many ways.

We experienced firsthand the value of having supportive families and friends. We were challenged to find our places in new cultures and languages. We grew and became more independent. Most importantly, we experienced the value of having supportive families and friends on the other side of the world.

Having each other has been a big support. We have created a relationship that is impossible to put a label on. A friend, a sister, a partner in crime, whatever you want to call it, it is one that we have lived and will continue to share with each other for the rest of our lives.

Rachel DuBois Nethercut and Claudia Lerma Casa will return to their first homes this summer. In the fall, Nethercut will be attending Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Lerma Casa the University of Valencia in Spain.

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