“It was good”
My first few weeks at home were all about settling in and distracting myself from the empty pit in my stomach. I caught up with friends and saw all my family. Every single person I knew asked me “So how was America?” “How was your trip?” They meant well. But how can One summarise a whole year of adventures and heartbreaks into one short conversational sentence? “How was your exchange?”
My heart rises to my throat every time someone mentions the USA and I can feel my hands start clenching. Someone is about to ask me how my year was. I’m lost for words. All the moments when I felt like life was endless and I wanted to freeze the moment in mid-smile as I flew down I81 with a group of my closest friends, music so loud I couldn’t think. I felt like I was flying. All the nights I lay with my host brothers in the backyard staring at the sky, or the cool misty mornings at the Lakehouse sitting on the dock and feeling more peace than I’ve ever felt before. All the car rides with my host sister, music blaring, Starbucks in the cup holders, talking about everything and nothing. All the mornings hugging my host Mum goodbye before jumping on the yellow school bus. All nervous the first hellos and gut-wrenching last goodbyes. All the late nights with my exchange family, playing a mix of music from all over the world and speaking in a mix of languages, dancing, drinking, and laughing until we’re exhausted and fall in a happily exhausted heap together. Real love exists. Standing in Times Square, having no words for the first time because I’ve never seen anything so incredibly overwhelming.And then you leave it all. How can you say all that in one sentence? “How was your exchange?”
One day I was there, cuddling my baby host sister and walking the dog after school, and the next I was on a plane Sydney bound. It was over just like that. My whole life ended in the 10 minutes it took me to clear customs at Harrisburg airport after a long teary goodbye. How do you explain to an average person the emptiness you feel after leaving everything you love? The excitement you feel when you finally understand everything everyone is saying? The happiness you feel when your host parents refer to you as their “Australian daughter”? The sadness you feel at your last meeting? How could anyone understand the dread when your last exchange student gathering comes to an end, and you have to say goodbye to the people who have gotten you through your whole life, your International family and best friends all rolled into one?
You can’t explain it in one sentence. “How was your exchange?”
How do you tell them about the dizziness you felt standing at the top of the Empire State Building, or the absolute pure joy you felt walking into Disneyland for the first time in your life, seeing the fireworks and feeling your heart leap with every bang? The utter awe you felt walking across the Golden Gate Bridge? Or the tears that came to your eyes coming over the hill and seeing the skyline of New York City, the city you have dreamed of seeing your whole life?
“Hey! I haven’t seen you in so long! How was your exchange?”. “Hey! It was good…”