It all starts somewhere. You try to put your life into a suitcase, you say goodbye, you forget at least three things that are important, and you get on a plane to fly away from what you have known as home your whole life. Exchange is change. Rapid, beautiful, overwhelming, unexpected. Change in lifestyle, in language, in friends, in parents, in school, in food, in houses, in simply everything. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just different. You will discover things about yourself that you never dreamed of. You will do things you thought were impossible and you change in so many ways without even realizing it.
You will discover new passions, hobbies, ways of thinking and you begin to see everything in a new light.
Exchange means trust. Trust in yourself, that you can be on your own, far away from home, being apart from everything that mattered to you before. You have to trust people, who at first are only names on a piece of paper, trust that they want the best for you, that they care. You have to trust in yourself that you find friends. Trust that everything’s going to be alright.
Exchange is frustrating. There are many things you can’t do. Things you try and don’t work. Things you say that don’t make sense. Things you say, that mean the exact opposite of what you meant to say. You feel guilty because you didn’t talk to someone at home. Or feeling guilty because you missed something cause you facetimed home. It’s frustrating that you spend so much time to do all of the assignments, quizzes, homework and tests without getting any credit.
Exchange is getting better. You are getting better at everything. You can finally speak without having words stuck in your head. You finally know in which cupboards everything belongs when you unload the dishwasher and it’s feeling the connection between your host family grow. Knowing that you cope with so many things and overcome so many challenges that can only make you surer of your own powers.
Exchange is great. You do and see things you could never have dreamed of. You gain a second family, new friends and you start to become a local in another culture. It’s a journey of self-discovery and personal growth filled with unforgettable memories. You become more independent, and confident in yourself and in the choices you make and you learn to take everything as it comes.
Exchange is crazy and fun. You start about thinking, when your homework is due, even though your grades don’t count, your dreams and thoughts are bilingual, sometimes it takes you about more than 5 minutes to remember a word in your native language, you sleep more often then ever before in your life, you start speaking with your pets at your hometown when you facetime, you have two homes and two families. Now‚‘I understood you’ is the best compliment you can get and people think you are a local until you speak.
Exchange is something you can’t understand unless you have been through it. It is something you will never forget, something that will always be a part of you and something no one can take away from you. It gives you more than just knowledge about another countries culture, language and tradition. It teaches you so much more. You learn how to build new friendships, respecting differences and finding similarities and tolerating the beliefs of others. You are realizing that everyone is the same, no matter where they are from and that they are amazing people everywhere.
Written by Lisa Etzien