I've come to the conclusion that no one will truly understand what it's like to be an exchange student unless they've been one. Now, there are all kinds of exchange students. There are Rotary exchange students who can leave for the summer on a short-term program and there are those who leave for a whole academic year. There are students who study abroad in college. There are "exchanges" between schools all around the world for a short amount of time. There are programs like AFS, People-to-people, etc etc. Each program works differently and one exchange is not comparable to another. This is something that people have to understand.
Exchange is so... exchange. There aren't many words to describe what exchange really is because it's different for everyone that experiences it. For some people exchange is beautiful and full of culture and experience and for others it's full of homesickness and misery and culture-shock... then there are other people who have exchanges that are in the middle of being beautiful and full of culture and experience and full of homesickness and misery and culture shock. I would like to consider myself in the "in-between". Now, just because I've been upset on my exchange doesn't necessarily mean that I haven't enjoyed it, because I have. But, sometimes, especially now during the holiday season, I feel more homesick than usual because I never used to notice how much joy I got out of being with my family and being at home and being in my comfortable life.
Exchange is change. Lots of change. You've changed your country, your life, your day-to-day language, your culture, your reputation, and your family and during your exchange there will always be change. Your family will change (both host and natural), your language skills will improve, your outlook on the world will change, your identity will change as you figure out who you are during your year. There is no way to avoid change. It's something to be expected and accepted in any form- good or bad.
Exchange is perception. Your perception of the world and of your host country and of your home country and of yourself and your family and your life... all of it will change and everything that has happened to you will come into focus and you'll be able to think rationally and mature so much within the year.
Exchange is strange. Exchange is strange food, strange cultures, strange costumes, strange languages, strange people, strange feelings.
Exchange is people. Those incredibly strange people, who look at you like you’re an alien. Those people who are too afraid to talk to you. And those people who actually talk to you. Those people who know your name, even though you have never met them. Those people, who tell you who to stay away from. Those people who talk about you behind your back, those people who make fun of your country. All those people, who aren’t worth your giving a damn. Those people you ignore. And those people who invite you to their homes. Who keep you sane. Who become your friends.
Exchange is a lot of feeling uncomfortable. Mainly because of culture shock, but even in your best moments you're going to feel weird and out of place and maybe not even welcomed. And it will be painful to feel so uncomfortable, but once you start to realize that how you feel is normal and it'll happen a lot, you'll start to feel more comfortable and life will seem normal for you.
Exchange is communication. You'll struggle with communicating what you REALLY want to say at least once. It's bound to happen. Believe me. Exchange is communication between you and your friends and your family and with yourself about what you want for yourself during your year. Exchange is learning how to communicate with your new language, but also with your actions and your thoughts.
Exchange is learning how to pack your life into a suitcase.
Exchange is not a year in your life. It’s a life in one year.
Exchange is nothing like you expected it to be, and everything you wanted it to be. Exchange is the best year of your life. Without a doubt. And it’s also the worst. Without a doubt.
Exchange is something you will never forget, something that will always be a part of you. It is something no one back at home will ever truly understand.
Exchange is realizing that you're able to make it on your own. Exchange is becoming an adult and becoming a part of society in one year by throwing you to another part of the world to live and grow as an intelligent and cultured human being. Exchange is making your parents proud as your represent your family. Exchange is making a good impression on the people you meet as you represent your country. Exchange is representing your brand and how you want people to remember you.
Exchange is dancing for no reason, crying without a reason, laughing at the same time. It’s a melting pot of every emotion possible.
But on the same note... how do you know what ADVENTURE is if you never took part in one? How do you know what ANGUISH is if you never said goodbye to your family and friends with your eyes full of tears? How do you know what OPPORTUNITY is if you never got one? How do you know what DISTANCE is if you never, looking at a map, said "I'm so far away"? How do you know what a FRIEND is if the circumstances never showed you the true ones? How do you KNOW THE WORLD, if you have never been a exchange student?
Exchanges are unique and beautiful and awkward and sad in their respective ways. You'll learn so much, you'll see so much, you'll hear so much, you'll live so much in just 10-12 months of the rest of your life.
And I've been asked why I did exchange, why I wanted to do exchange and here's my answer:
Aside from wanting to learn a new language, a new culture, more people, another country... exchange is wanting a life. But we exchange students travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. Because in the end, the only regrets we have are the chances we didn't take. And traveling... it makes you speechless but then turns you into a storyteller. Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.
And after all, there are no foreign lands... it is the traveler only who is foreign.
With much love,