Erika Sierra, a student from Ecuador, insists she is not homesick
by: Kristen Forbes, Rotary International exchange student Erika Sierra, 18, has adjusted to life in Oregon and found herself a new home in Sherwood. She is originally from Ecuador.

Foreign exchange student Erika Sierra, who is attending Sherwood High School this year, knows she's a long way from Quito, Ecuador. She's far from her family, friends and boyfriend. She's far from the moderate temperatures she grew up with, and she's far from the unprocessed foods she's accustomed to eating.

Ask this 18-year-old if she's homesick, though, and she'll shake her head emphatically.

'I've never been homesick,' she says. 'This is what I wanted to do. And I don't understand - if you wanted to do this, why would you get homesick? What would you regret about it?'

Sierra delayed her college education a year to come to the United States as part of the Rotary International exchange program. She was first told she'd be going to Pennsylvania and prepared herself accordingly.

'I had already researched Pennsylvania and the weather and the people and everything,' she says.

At the last minute, there was a change in plans. Instead of Pennsylvania, Sierra was sent to Sherwood.

'All of my documents got late there, so I got late here. It was like two weeks after they started high school here, so I was two weeks late . . . I was really scared, and it was really hard for me,' Sierra says.

Once here, she adjusted well. As part of the program, she lives with three different families for several months at a time. She is now living with her third family. An only child, Sierra admits it was hard getting used to suddenly having 'siblings.'

'We both were the only child,' she says of her first host sister in her first family. 'It was really tough for us to get used to having another person to share things with and things like that.' Still, after getting used to each other, they became good friends - her first is planning on visiting Sierra when she goes back to Ecuador.

While living with her first sister, she met the sister from her second family. 'I already met my second family when I was living with my first one because they were friends,' Sierra says. 'So that was really cool.'

In her current family, the siblings are younger and don't go to high school with her. Transitioning from one family to the next requires constant adjustment, but Sierra says she's been really happy with all of her host families.

The weather, she says, was another adjustment.

'Totally opposite!' she exclaims. 'The rain and the wind and the really cold - here it's so cold compared to there.'

For the most part, Sierra's transition has been smooth and Sherwood feels like home.

'I didn't know what to expect,' Sierra says. 'For me, it was totally new. I like it here because it looks a little bit like Ecuador because of all the forest and the trees.'

'Rotary has a lot of exchange students in Oregon in my district,' Sierra explains. 'There's an amazing bond that you get to have with them. It's really, really impressive how easily and how quickly you can make friends. You're living the same thing, and you're experiencing the same things, and it's really fun.' She says she's formed a particularly close bond with the other Spanish speakers. (Sierra speaks flawless English).

With friends that she's made both through Rotary and school, Sierra has gone into Portland and traveled to Astoria, Seaside, Central Oregon and Baker City. She's stayed in cabins, gone skiing and enjoyed the coast.

An advantage to already graduating from high school in Ecuador before coming here is that Sierra can take the classes that sound most interesting to her. She's taken courses in photography, drama and interior design - subjects that wouldn't be offered in Ecuador.

Not wanting to lose her edge for when she attends university in Ecuador next year, though, she's also kept up with trigonometry and physics.

Being so far from her lifelong friends and maintaining a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend have been difficult, Sierra says.

Still, she appreciates what she feels she has truly gained here: 'Independence.' And she fears that when she returns home, it will be difficult to rejoin her friends and family after taking '300 steps forward' while out on her own.

Like with everything else, what may be difficult at first eventually gets easier. And Sierra, with her outgoing tendencies and roll-with-the-punches attitude, will do just fine - wherever she goes.

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