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Spanish exchange student living her "American Dream" experience

Carmen Orta
Carmen Orta is studying at Independent School District 518 on a 10-month exchange from Spain. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — With a year dedicated to new experiences, teenage exchange student Carmen Orta is adapting to her temporary life in southwest Minnesota.

For the junior exchange student from Spain, that includes recent snowfall, which she described as a very exciting moment.

“I’m used to being at the beach for half the year,” said the 16-year-old, an exchange student at Independent School District 518. “It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen snow.”

From Huelva, Spain, Orta said she’s always desired to study outside of the country and have her own “American Dream” experience. She also wanted to improve her English-speaking ability, with she’s excited to have made noticeable improvements in just a couple months.

“My listening skills have gotten better,” Orta said.

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She’s also learned more conversational words from her peers, like how many Midwesterners ask for a “pop” rather than “soda.”

Upon being accepted to a United States exchange program, Orta didn’t know where she’d be headed until about three weeks before her mid-August arrival.

Having known nothing about Worthington, Orta did an online online of the place she’d call home for 10 months. The search yielded that Worthington had a lake and the high school a band.

“I thought that was really cool,” Orta said about the high school’s band program. “We don’t have those kinds of activities in Spain.”

Orta has made it a point to enjoy activities offered in her American school.

Although she hadn’t played before, Orta joined the volleyball team, where she made friends and got to travel to other Minnesota towns for competition. She enjoyed the “school spirit” experience.

Her teammates signed a shirt so that she has a keepsake to remember the experience and friendships when she returns to Spain. She now plans to join the basketball team and is considering joining the technical crew for the school play.

“It makes school fun,” Orta said of the extra activities afforded to students in the American school system.

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Orta recently tried ice skating for the first time, and is proud that her rollerblading skills translated well and kept her from falling. She also celebrated Halloween, where she dressed up as Tom Cruise's character from “Risky Business.”

While she didn’t have a ton of expectations before arriving in the U.S., one thing Orta said she certainly didn’t expect was homecoming, and how students celebrated the week with dress-up days and concluded it by dressing in formal attire for a dance.

Between all the school and extra activities, Orta hasn’t experienced being homesick.

“When I decided I wanted to come I knew I was going to be far away from (my family),” Orta said of her the mindset before traveling abroad. “I talk with them everyday, so it’s OK.”

Orta has also become comfortable with her host family. She lives with Trisha Schmidt in Worthington and Schmidt’s two children, who are 9 and 14.

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