GLEN ROSE - "Wish they all could be California Girls." Much like the Beach Boys' hit song, Nina Kagie had visions of the California sun, sand and beach dancing in her head when she decided she wanted to study abroad in America.
However, the 17-year-old from Leiden, Holland didn’t end up in California, she landed smack dab in the Dinosaur Capital of the World - Glen Rose, Texas.
Kagie applied to be a foreign exchange student in January 2015 and due to the long application process she thought her dreams of studying in America wouldn’t come true.
“I didn’t even think I was going anymore,” she said. “It took them seven months to find me a host family and then on Aug. 25 they told me I was going to my host family in Glen Rose and that I had to leave in two days.”
With that notice, Kagie left behind her parents, older sister and friends. Kagie said that her parents encouraged her to cross the Atlantic, so that she could experience what America - and the American culture - was truly like.
Kagie didn’t have much time to settle into Glen Rose before she started her studies at Glen Rose High School. She met her host mother, Patti Hawkins and her family, at the airport on a Tuesday evening, enrolled in classes on Wednesday and started her junior year at GRHS on Thursday.
From watching the movie “High School Musical,” Kagie thought she knew what American high school was like. She envisioned the cliques that are so famously portrayed in movies - cheerleaders, jocks, band members, and others - all hung out within their own social groups. But when she got to GRHS, the exchange student realized that everyone socialized and mingled with each other.
Losing the perception of what American high school was suppose to be like wasn’t the only thing that she had to adjust to.
“At the beginning it was hard, because I didn’t understand what I was suppose to do,” Kagie explained. “I wasn’t use to the weather, the people, my host family, or the language. It was very overwhelming.”
Even though it was a struggle in the beginning, it was also an exciting time, because everything was new and different for her. She was amazed at how everything from the the trucks to the food were bigger in Texas and she was also in awe of how friendly and well acquainted the citizens of Glen Rose were.
It also helped that she was an exchange student.
“In the beginning, people are very interested in you because you’re an exchange student,” she said.
As any transplant knows when you move to a foreign place you get homesick from time to time. The holidays were especially tough on Kagie and she thought very seriously about going home.
“I had a moment that I was crying and was like ‘I want to go home,’” Kagie said. “I talked to my host parents and other people about it and decided that I started this and I was going to finish it. [...] I’m very happy I decided to stay, because I made more effort and now I know a lot more new people and I’m just happy now.”
Even though, she is happy, Kagie still misses her family and friends in Holland. She does Skype with them, but to avoid becoming homesick again she limits how often she does.
So far, Kagie has adjusted to life in America well. Although, there is one thing that she says she hasn’t gotten into.
Laughing, she explained she doesn’t much care for country music.
Being away from home and in a new place has made Kagie a stronger person.
“You’re going to have days where you just want to cry and go home, but you’re also going to have days that are amazing and you love your life," Kagie said. "You learn a lot about yourself. [...] I was always a little insecure [in Holland] and wanted to make people happy. But when I came here after a few months I became more confident in myself.”
Kagie will return to Holland after the school year ends and she’ll be taking back more than just her newfound confidence. She is leaving with new memories and a new family that she will miss.
The Hawkins family will miss her as well. Patti said it will be hard to have her leave, because she is a part of their family now. When asked if she would be a host mom again, Patti said she would, but “it would be hard to get anyone better than Nina.”
Kagie plans to return to America - and of course California is still high on the list of places she would like to visit. However, she says Glen Rose will always be a must visit on her travel itinerary.