Exchange Student USA

And suddenly it all becomes a memory

People always talk about how hard it is to go somewhere and adapt to the new environment. Your exchange year wasn’t for certain easy. But what happens when you go back home? Is that also hard to adapt to, even though you know that life?

Coming home again, after a year in a totally different country from the one you have been living in for 16 years before that, is probably the most complicated feeling ever to describe.

You are a different person than you were before when you leave for your host country, and most exchange students know it has done nothing but great things to them. Even though you have lived all your life in your home country except those 10 months, most students feel like everything is unaccustomed for them. You often fight with the tears when you look back at all the memories. You wish you could do it all over again, because you enjoyed it so much that it way too far became a memory.

When you look back you should be proud of what you did. When you look back you know how much fun it actually was, even though most of the times you didn’t even realize it.

When arriving to your host country you had a certain certainty that in the end you would go back home and even though sometimes it seemed like an eternity, the time just flew by. Now you have to go back and leave this life you built – your new life of which your friends and family at home barely know anything about. Sure, you told them about it, they saw pictures posted on Facebook, but they don’t know what it was like. They don’t know which bus you had to take to go to school everyday. They don’t know how you got so used to your name being mispronounced. They don’t know how deep your connection is with your host family and your fellow exchange students. They don’t know how lonely and sad you felt sometimes, but how great the experience was in the end. Most of all, they don’t know what you have to leave behind.

I remember my last weeks very well. I don’t think I have ever been such an emotional mess as I was then. On one hand I was super excited to go back – to see my friends, my family and my country. I had made a list of all the foods I would eat when I was back home. I was going to talk without being afraid of making some grammatical mistakes. But I was also extremely sad, because I knew what I would have to leave behind. I didn’t want the last week to end.

‘Cause what you’re leaving behind is not a country. It is not the people. It is the experience. Leaving after your exchange means it will never be that way again. You can come back, but you won’t have to take that bus to go to school. You can’t text your exchange friends anymore to see if they want to hang out with you. Even with your host family it will be different, because you will probably never live with them anymore.

I know this thought is extremely terrifying. It is also really sad. I would give anything I could to go back to my exchange year, however shitty it was at times. I now realize that it was great. It had its charm and I cherish all memories I have from that time. I think I still start 70% of my stories with “During my exchange year…”, which is probably annoying the crap out of the people around me, but I don’t care – because it was amazing.

I was extremely afraid of going home. I had a lot of scenarios in my head of what could go wrong. How people wouldn’t understand me. But it wasn’t bad at all. It was great to be back home. There were so many little things that I had forgotten about that I could enjoy now. I hung out a lot with other exchange students and I feel like that was something that kept me going even more. I realized that there was a life after my exchange. I often say it was the best year of my life and it sure was without a doubt. But life has much more to offer, but in many ways your exchange is extremely unique and memorable.

Ida Kaergaard

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