Last September, Mike Pronschinske left the United States for a yearlong study abroad experience through the AFS student exchange program.

Now, he has just over one month left as a foreign exchange student in Arraijan, Panama.

Mike first approached his mother in the spring of 2012 with the idea of studying abroad.

"I wanted to study abroad after I made a few friends that were in Hastings studying abroad," Mike said. "They said it was an experience of a lifetime."

His parents, Greg and Patti Pronschinske, were supportive of his intentions.

"The decision was completely Mike's ... and I wanted to be supportive," Patti said. "Now is the time for (kids) to experience things. If they want to do something like this, it's important that they do it."

Mike received a letter last June congratulating him of his acceptance into the AFS-Panama program.

"I had the choice between Costa Rica for half a year, Panama for a year, and Paraguay for a year." Mike said, "I knew a little bit about Panama because of its relationship with the U.S. so I said, 'Okay, I'll just go for it....Panama or nothing.'"

Mike first arrived in Panama early last September. He moved in with a host family and started attending school.

Although Mike took three years of Spanish at Hastings High School, the Panamanian Spanish he encountered abroad challenged him.

"Their accent is so much different than what we learned in high school," Mike said. "The vocabulary is different. I knew how to conjugate verbs, and that was about it."

In Panama, Mike attends the Centro Bilingüe de Vista Alegre, a bilingual private school in Arraijan. His classes are all in Spanish, except for English and science.

"When I got there, the hardest part for me was having zero knowledge of a lot of the terms they were using," Mike said, "but for the most part it was fun and relaxed."

Patti and Greg are grateful for the support from the Hastings High School administration.

"(Principal Mike) Johnson and the high school have been a big help with transferring the credits," Patti said.

Although Mike was not present to walk with his graduating class, he is now a graduate of Hastings High School.

"I am officially now graduated," Mike said, "But I still need to send my grades from here back to the U.S."

Mike focused on the opportunities he had throughout his study abroad experience, instead of dwelling on what he missed in Hastings during his senior year.

"I could have had those (typical) high school experiences, but if I did have those experiences, I wouldn't have the experiences here (in Panama)," Mike said.

Mike has been accepted to Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he plans to study international business. He will leave Hastings for college this fall, just 20 days after he returns to the U.S.

"I want to be something along the lines of a translator and learn more than just Spanish," Mike said. "My experience here has definitely influenced me to change my whole perspective of what I want to do with the future."

Among the things Mike will miss from Panama are the people he has connected with through his experiences abroad.

"I'm going to miss my family here," Mike said. "They are very fun people. I'm going to miss the friends that I've made from Panama and the other foreign exchange students that I've met."

Mike will return to Hastings in late July, where his family and friends will be eagerly awaiting his arrival.