It’s Sunday, and we’ve just returned to our exchange home from home after a day half spent at the beach and half spent exploring the new and quite magnificent stadium which sits on the other side of the river looking like a wonderful space-ship. It’s one of those icons-in-waiting which has created much controversy and many letters to the local papers, for and against.

Now the stadium is finished, and the people of Perth, whose rates helped pay the $1.6 billion it cost to produce were invited to see it. By special invitation. The tickets were free but limited. Here we were, two of the chosen, because our exchange hosts thought we might like to see it and applied for tickets. Months ago. It’s what home exchangers are like. We are not faceless renters; we are new and valued friends who should be made to feel at home. Like locals.

This kind of thing happens all the time. We have spent many happy moments sitting on our balcony waving to neighbours and chatting with new friends. Not so extraordinary you might say, but remember this is not a neighbourhood we’ve known all our lives, or even for a few years. These friends are people we had never even heard of a few weeks ago, but now, because we are in a home, not a hotel, we’ve become part of the scenery. We are locals.

Locals like us can mooch off down to the market and pick up the kind of fresh, tasty produce you can easily find when you’re somewhere else on holiday but rarely get to actually cook because you’re in a hotel. We’ve got a fully equipped kitchen at our disposal. One that boasts all the little extra things, like a left-handed potato peeler and a tool for getting stones out of cherries. Not six knives, six forks, six spoons and the chilly impersonality of a rental or hotel suite.

Locals like us learn about and take the free, air-conditioned bus service, called The Yellow Cat. Locals like us arm ourselves with transport passes and shop loyalty cards. We are close enough to our loved ones we came all this way to visit, and we relish that closeness. But we also enjoy the fact that because we have no financial pressures to cut our stay short, we can spend time on our own or with new friends too. We’re on a home exchange; we not only have time together, but we also have time apart.

I have often written about what home exchange has done for me. I’ve used hosts’ cookbooks to discover new dishes, I’ve signed up for courses and joined local book clubs. I’ve been taught how to make the best croissants from a French neighbour when on an exchange in La Rochelle. My halting Italian became, if not fluent, much more confident after a Roman exchange and I have learned to love and appreciate the land of my birth, Australia. We all have our memories, our experiences of our individual exchanges, but one thing we definitely have in common is that feeling of belonging – no matter where we are. We’re locals, and we like it.

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