Conquering Change

Junior finds community while experiencing foreign exchange program


Ava Swanson

Junior Claudia Garcia Martinez de Ubago smiles for a photo.

Ava Swanson, Editor

Welcome to Buda, Texas! Home of Johnson High School, and your home for the next eight months. This is the situation that junior Claudia Garcia Martinez de Ubago was faced with when she signed up for a foreign exchange program last year and officially became a part of the Jaguar family. 

Martinez de Ubago is a student from the Basque Country on the northern coast of Spain. She has been at Johnson since the late fall, and her plan is to finish out the school year before returning home. 

“I really feel settled here,” Martinez de Ubago said. “During the process of feeling good here, for me what was really important was the people. The people I met made me feel welcome and like I belong to this place.” 

Part of the reason why meeting people and making new friends helped her so much was because of the regular human interaction she was used to in her hometown. 

“My town isn’t really big, but it’s good because we all know each other in town,” Martinez de Ubago said. “People hang out a lot in our town. Every day, we just hang out with our friends, and it’s nice.” 

One of the experiences that has allowed Martinez de Ubago to build a friend group for herself was joining the tennis team. She has played since she was eight years old, but she only really got into the sport around three years ago. 

“Tennis has been nice here,” Martinez de Ubago said. “There are a lot of nice people, and I’ve made friends to hang out with after school.” 

Martinez de Ubago’s new friends are one of the things that she will miss most about Buda when she goes back to Spain after the school year ends. 

“I’ll miss them a lot,” she said. “I hope they get to come to Spain. I’ll invite them for sure.”

Another group that helped Martinez de Ubago truly feel at home in Buda was her host family. In her host family, she has two little “brothers,” an eight-year-old and a five-year-old. 

“I’ve never had boy siblings because I have a sister in Spain who is one year younger, but they’re so cute,” Martinez de Ubago said. “And the family is really nice to me. They take me to see places near Austin.” 

Despite the connections that Martinez de Ubago was able to find throughout her time here, the entire experience has been extremely strange for her as she has had to adjust to the different aspects of her new home, such as changing classes at each bell and using a car to get everywhere. On top of that, her academic life has been extremely hectic during her time here. 

“I thought that school was going to be easier than it is, but it’s way harder,” Martinez de Ubago said. “If I fail, I am going back to Spain, and I missed the year because they’ve already started.” 

In addition to her time here just being an unusual change for her, parts of it, like homesickness, have also been extremely difficult. 

“I really miss my family and friends a lot,” Martinez de Ubago said. “I was really sad to not spend Christmas with my family.” 

Even though Martinez de Ubago greatly misses her family, spending the academic year in Buda has allowed her to spread her wings and become more independent. 

“I feel like I learned a lot,” Martinez de Ubago said. “I improved my English first of all, and then I learned how life works in other places. I’m also learning how to live without my family and friends and be more independent and mature.” 

To continue this process of learning and growing, Martinez de Ubago is thinking about attending college outside of Spain. 

“I would love to come here for college, but it’s so expensive,” Martinez de Ubago said. “I will for sure look for scholarships here, but I was also thinking about going somewhere in Europe. I feel like that would be really cool.” 

Overall, the biggest thing that Martinez de Ubago has learned from this experience has been that you never know what someone else is going through, so you should be nice to everyone. 

“I’ve come across people that were not nice to me,” she said. “When I started school, I didn’t know anybody and it wasn’t my language, but people would just be mean to me. They don’t understand how hard it is to come here. So, be nice. Just be nice.”