Living in two worlds

Foreign exchange student talks about going home


Junior Tatiana Shishenina, a foreign exchange student from Kyrgyzstan, will return home in May.

Story by Ruth Heinemann, Staff Writer

Leaving one life behind to start a new one 7,000 miles away from home is a risk not everybody is willing to take. Being an exchange student can be a rewarding but also a challenging experience. 

When Tatiana Shishenina, a foreign exchange student from Kyrgyzstan, came to Texarkana for her junior year, she hoped to find a second home. She immediately felt comfortable at Texas High and in her host family. In fact she even thought about staying in America for a few more years to attend college in Texas. However, getting an offer for a full ride scholarship at a college in her hometown left Shishenina torn between America and Kyrgyzstan. 

“Especially in the beginning of my exchange year, I was thinking about living in America permanently, or at least for a few more years,” Shishenina said. “Since I am graduating this summer from my school in Kyrgyzstan, technically, I could go to college next year.” 

After 10 months of living in Texarkana, Shishenina looks back at her time with gratitude. Being a foreign exchange student was a life-changing event that made her more mature and open-minded. 

“It’s really sad [that I’m going home] because it was such an amazing experience, but I’m pretty excited for my future after graduation in Kyrgyzstan,” Shishenina said. “My experience in the U.S. actually gave me more opportunities for my academic career. I will have the advantage of being able to work in bilingual jobs.”

Even after her return to Kyrgyzstan, Shishenina could benefit from her year in America because the government wants former exchange students to be ambassadors for the program so that more students will become foreign exchange students in the future. Alongside great academic accomplishments, possible scholarships will help her to achieve her professional goals.

“A university in Kyrgyzstan offered a full ride scholarship for exchange students who were in the U.S. so that they can share their experience. Besides that college, I have also applied for a scholarship at a university in Russia, but I haven’t heard back from them yet. My plan is to work in the field of media communication or economics,” Shishenina said.

In addition to these academic opportunities, during her time in America, Shishenina also started to appreciate her home country more. Once she left Kyrgyzstan, Shishenina became more aware of how it made her who she is today. Eventually, this influenced her decision to go back to Kyrgyzstan as planned in May 2020.

“I realized that it would be better for me to go back to Kyrgyzstan,” Shishenina said. “One thing that influenced my decision was the language. When you go somewhere where people speak another language than you, you really start appreciating your home country in a different way. As the year went by, I started thinking about the culture in my home country and how important it is for me.” 

Nonetheless, the positive and negative experiences she made this school year and the people she met had a great impact on her personality. 

“My theater experience was one of the best things for me because I found a new way to express myself,” Shishenina said. “I also met so many amazing people in theater. Even though there were tough times, I feel like I learned a lot about myself and my personality.” 

Even though her initial excitement decreased over time, Shishenina is grateful for the privilege of being a foreign exchange student. Especially during these times of uncertainty, her host family has been a big support for her.

“In the beginning I had this excitement for my exchange year. I loved it so much that I was thinking I would stay forever. It was an amazing opportunity to make adult decisions,” Shishenina said. “I’m so glad that I have my host family. They are always here for me and support like that makes me want to stay longer.”