At age 16, I left my hometown for Texas, USA for my high school exchange year. For 10 months I lived with a host family and went to an actual American high school. Even though there were many more experiences (about which I may write another time), one I remember as especially joyful: Spring Break 2014, during which I had left my host family for one week to visit Los Angeles and San Francisco together with a large group of other exchange students from all over the United States. It was one of the best weeks of my exchange year. I had the best time with the other exchange students, I remember a lot of laughter and having many inside jokes by the end of the week, I remember us all enjoying the amount of freedom we got from the two amazing tour guides after months of living by the strict rules from our American families. Those days in Californian were like a dream, like paradise. It has already been 2,5 years ago now though I was thinking about it recently, remembered what a wonderful time we had, and started missing it slightly. We had been teenagers back then, in the middle of the most eventful, exciting, confusing and influential year of our lives. No wonder some of us grew very close in just a few days: we found support in each other, we understood each others' experiences and stories and feelings, something that was hard to grasp for our friends and family in our home countries. I think that the people on the tour, the other exchange students, were probably most of the reason why my trip to California was so great. We loved California but we loved being with each other even more. We loved being with other Europeans after months of being exclusively around Americans. It felt like home, it felt like I could breathe freely again, like I could be myself. Don't get me wrong: I had an amazing time in Texas, I loved it there and I made some amazing friends that I got really close with, but as an exchange student in Texas I would always be the exchange student, a European, the Dutch girl. It was constant adaptation to a different culture, which meant pushing aside some of the norms and values that I got from The Netherlands and that had grown to be my own. What I mean to say is – see it like this: it's fun to be outside, but it's also fun to come home and be able to take of your bra.
As it was a scheduled tour, we mostly saw a lot of the basic tourist stuff in LA en SF so I won't go into that too deeply. I would rather mention some of the memories I have from those happy Californian days. I hung around with 4 Germans (Karo, Thea, Louis & David) a lot so most of my memories I have with that little squad. I remember:
- Obsessing over Starbucks together and going to every other Starbucks we bumped into. I always ordered Vanilla Bean as those are much better and much cheaper in America than over here!
- Freaking out when walking by a bakery that sold German bread buns. Then all of us buying buns and intensely enjoying eating them as none of us had had actual bread for the past few months.
- Being able to talk about god and religion for the first time in months. Discussing Americans obsession with god and joking about it as well without being avoided afterwards.
- Giving all of our dollar coins to homeless people, declaring loudly we were being very selfish because we were giving our money to homeless people just to make ourselves feel like we were being good people.
- Initially posing in front of the fountain with a "Universal Studios" sign in it, eventually ending up taking off our shoes to pose in the fountain instead.
- Going into the haunted house at the Universal Studios, finding myself all alone as one of my friends had tripped behind me and I hadn’t noticed, then all five of us running out of the haunted house when we got to the end of it, falling down to the ground & rolling on the floor, tears rolling over our cheeks and having to gasp for air as we were laughing so hard.
- Louis rebellious climbing up on a piece of decor at the Universal Studios. Louis climbing on a statue at the Staples Center. Me being in charge of capturing these actions in photos.
- The entire group hanging out at the pool at our LA hotel at night.
- Louis telling me about the first time he noticed me in our fifty-people tour group: at the night of our arrival, we had a first meeting at a large but empty room in our hotel. Louis: "That room was empty except for one chair. And guess who was sitting on that chair...........so then I knew of course I had to meet her."
- Actually being introduced to Louis when he was sitting in the chair behind me on the bus, and when I was taking a selfie, I was holding my camera up high, then Louis appeared in the photo.
- Constantly taking selfies for the entire weeking, saying: "But first, let me take a selfie!" each time as that song was popular by the time.
- Zeynep, who looked exactly like the Australian singer Lorde, so we started calling her Lorde to the point that we forgot her real name.
- Arriving at LAX by myself, feeling totally awesome and having "Party in the USA" in my head.
- Seeing the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, the LACMA Urban Lights, the Golden Gate Bridge and park, Lombard street, Pier 39 and the painted lady Victorian houses with my very own eyes and finding it hard to believe. Also being in Bevery Hills, at Santa Monica Beach and Pier, at Venice Beach, and at Via Rodeo.
- Visiting Fisherman's Warf in SF and eating a typical San Franciscan clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl - it was so fucking good.
- Visiting Farmers Market and eating a Nutella crêpe because I had missed that so much.
- Going to In-N-Out burger but not being so impressed as I went to a fast food restaurant almost every day in Texas - that's why my face is so chubby and pimply in these pictures.
- Being on a boat tour in San Francisco, doing "the Titanic" with Louis (see photo).
- The tour bus stopping by Diddy Riese to grab us cookies & ice cream.
- Stopping by Berkeley University and amusing ourselves in a store with Berkeley merchandise, then laying down in the grass pretending to be actual Berkeley students.
- Making up the phrase "Carpe Cali" as a variation on "Carpe Diem", an alternative way to say "You Only Live Once". There is no better way to describe that week of having fun and joy and laughter and carelessness.
- Walking through San Franciscan Chinatown, loudly playing ‘Apollo’ by Hardwell on my cell phone because I always thought that they sing ‘Nihao!’ in it but it’s actually ‘we are’...
- Wearing red lipstick everyday to the point that people hardly recognized me without it.
- Hanging on the side of the cable car in SF with Louis because inside was full.
- Literally laying down on the ground at the Walk of Fame where Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson's handprints were at - messing up the white pants I was wearing completely.
- Posing for a photo in the middle of a steep San Franciscan street with the risk of being killed by a car.
- Hating SF for its steep streets because my legs couldn't handle it.
- Waking up one morning in our LA hotel because of an earthquake, only realizing it was an earthquake when people were discussing it at breakfast.
- Going back to Texas by plane and having to change planes in San Diego though I had never changed planes before, let alone by myself, consequently feeling proud of managing to get home.
- Having such a great time with everyone that I only edited pictures having us in it – only noticing all the other pictures 2,5 years later…So I decided to edit the pictures 2,5 years late. Here’s the result.
Special thanks to Louis, Karo, Thea and David and everyone else who made my Californian days unforgettable!
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