The Exchange Program

Words Johanna Paterson

Johanna writes a fictional story about her real friend Laura. However, Laura is a real French exchange student, loves the state and Elizabeth College – and has an obsession with Tim Tams. 

“Have you finished packing?” I asked, running across the road to keep up with Laura.

“No,” she replied. “I have to do that tonight. I won’t be able to take everything; it won’t all fit in my suitcase so you’ll have to send me some of my things in the mail, if that’s okay.”

We walked onto school grounds at 8.37am and there was nobody in sight. Everyone had made it into their classrooms already, out of the cold air. Laura pulled the hood of her cardigan over her hair as a sharp breeze picked up in the courtyard, and I zipped up my jacket. The sky was an easy, delicate blue, and the leaves on the trees throughout the grounds were falling in steady, crimson flurries to the pavement.

“I didn’t want to be late on my last day,” Laura laughed, nearing the door to our first class of the day.

“Oh well, I don’t think we’re going to be doing too much work today, anyway,” I smiled. Laura opened the door to our English Writing classroom and went inside.

Three tables had been moved into a single row through the middle of the room, and packets of chips and cookies and bottles of soft drink almost completely covered the tabletops. Everyone from the English class – including our teacher, Leah – sat around the tables, smiling at Laura.

“Happy last day!” Leah said, reaching for a bag of chips. “We decided to have a going-away party for you.”

Laura laughed: “You didn’t have to do all of this”, and I drew two packets of Tim Tams from my bag. “Of course we did,” I said, opening a packet and handing it to her.

Before long, all of the bags and boxes of food had been opened, and most had been eaten. Laura had been pulled into dozens of photos, and had eaten almost an entire packet of Tim Tams herself.

Dropping into a chair beside me, she held up the empty packet: “I’m going to miss these so much back in France”.

“I bet you will,” I laughed. “Are you looking forward to going home, though?”

“Not really,” Laura said, lowering her voice slightly. “I don’t actually want to go back. Australia’s more like my home now, and I like Elizabeth College more than my school in France. Everybody’s nicer, and school is actually fun here.”

“Laura!” Leah called from across the table. “We have a present for you!”

Leah was holding a blue gift bag for Laura, who took it with hesitation. “You really didn’t need to do all this for me,” she said.

“We all chipped in for it,” Leah said, sitting back down in her chair. “We thought you needed something to remember us all by.”

The gift was one of the Elizabeth College hoodies, with the school logo and year printed on the front and back. Laura cried when she took it from the bag, and she wore it to the airport the next day.

One year later, Laura came back to Australia. She said that the exchange program had changed her life, and that Tasmania was where she wanted to stay. When she got off the plane from France, she was wearing her Elizabeth College hoodie from the year before.

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