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The Unexpected Exchange Student Life

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By Natalia Mushegian, YES Abroad 2014-2015, Macedonia

I love being an exchange student because of the way it turns confusion into amazement.

Earlier this year, I was sitting in my room doing homework when my host mom walked in and asked if I wanted to come to a jazz concert. I said yes, of course—the number one rule of exchange is to say yes when someone offers to take you somewhere—and my host mom nodded then said, "You should change, it's at the president's residence!"

President, I assumed, meant the president of some jazz association, who would be kindly hosting a concert in his or her own home. As I got ready, though, I put together the fact that she only said "president" and that everyone was dressing extremely well into the truth: we were going to the president of Macedonia's home to listen to some jazz.

It turns out that my host father was invited to a reception marking the opening of the Skopje Jazz Festival, an event that occurs over a few days every October, held at the home of the Macedonian President. Amazement.

My host mother, host father, host sister, and I arrived at the residence, and again I was amazed at how beautiful it was, and also by how close to the city it was. As we walked through security, I began to hear the promised jazz. The music was wonderful, and I was so grateful to be able to listen to talented musicians in a beautiful setting with amazing people. Musicians mingled with journalists and professors, scientists, and politicians, and, of course Mr. Gjorge Ivanov, President of Macedonia himself. My host father was able to introduce me to him, and my entire host family was able to get a picture with him!

As I walked back to the car a few hours later, I was struck by how unreal this experience was. I was focused on the music, but I was in a foreign country, 20 feet away from its president, and with a family who was so generous as to take me in as a member of their family and their home. I'm so, so thankful for everyone who made this experience possible!