Erinn Rusak is keeping an open-mind.
While her friends are already back in the classroom hitting the books, the 16-year-old Charlotte Catholic High student is preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime. Her junior year will be one to remember for years to come.
Erinn leaves for Spain next week for a 10-month school year stay, leaving her school, parents, friends and twin sister Lauren behind.
The program, which is through AFS, an international exchange program for students and adults, is something Erinn has been familiar with for several years now. She’s met foreign exchange students attending her own school here at home. She’s also one of a few Catholic High students to go abroad with the program, and the only one this year.
But for Erinn, she’s got a lot to leave behind. A varsity cheerleader and avid Miller Street Dance Academy dancer, she says spending a year in San Sabastian, Spain, will be hard, but exciting.
“It’s going to be really different; a little sad but will be well worth it once I’m there,” she said. “I’m not really expecting much except to become fluent in Spanish and find life-long friends.”
Erinn leaves Charlotte on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and will arrive in Spain on Sept. 8. It’s her first time out of the country besides a family cruise last summer.
“I’m really nervous about the school part because I arrive on Saturday and start school on Monday the 10th,” Erinn said, adding that her school will be an all-girls Catholic school. “I’m used to the Catholic school and the uniform part, but not the all-girls part.”
Initially for Erinn, school will be very difficult because of the language barrier. AFS encourages its students to speak only in the foreign language and not their native language while in their exchange country to help train their minds in the foreign language. For Erinn, she’s had Spanish as an elective since elementary school, but never as an immersion course.
“I’m expecting it to be pretty tough at first,” she said.
Erinn said girls from the school have already started messaging her on Facebook since she’s taking the place of her host sister, Belen, who is currently living in Chicago for the exchange program.
For Kris Rusak, Erinn’s mom, she says the family will miss Erinn while she’s gone, but is excited for the great opportunity.
“I am sad to see her go, but she wants this so bad,” Kris Rusak said. “The application was 40 pages – it took her months to do, but when someone wants something so bad, it makes it easier to let them go. It’s just an opportunity that most people won’t get to experience.”
But although a great opportunity, the two said there will be some tough times. Communication between Erinn and her family will be limited, and she’ll miss some major family traditions and celebrations while abroad, including her and her sister’s birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas and several family graduations.
But Erinn is hopeful that along with her host mom and dad, who only speak some broken English, this will be a year she’ll never forget.
“I think she’s going into it with lower expectations to really take in what’s going on,” Kris Rusak said.
Initially, Erinn will have some major adjusting, starting with a six-hour time difference and a later dinner schedule closer to bedtime. She’ll adjust to walking to school and a harder, more rigorous course load. She won’t be cheering, but hopes to explore other venues such as rhythmic gymnastics, other types of dance and possibly surfing, since she’ll be living in close proximity to the beach.
Erinn says she’s most excited about everything – exploring a new culture, becoming fluent in Spanish and making new friends, but leaving behind her family and dog will definitely prove to be the toughest ingredient to the whole trip, she said.
“I’ve never really been alone or separated from Lauren. I’m kind of sad because we’ve never been separated, but I’m excited to go,” she said. “It’s going to be weird for both of us.”