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Homesickness, Living Abroad

How To Survive Homesickness Hypothermia

“I realized that there’s some parallelism in this: freezing and losing ourselves in a strange culture. In other words, the way to cope with homesickness and cultural stagnation can be summarized in a list of similar steps that the ones followed in order to counter hypothermia.”

A few months ago, whilst writing my new novel, I wanted to portray one of the most complicated steps of the adaptation to a new country. This story is focused on an immigrant who goes to seek her fortune in better lands so, in a dialectic exchange between the two main characters, this foreign girl asks the native how to counter the cold that bashes the European lands, comparing it with the distressing eternal summer of her nation. And so, he explains to her the process of avoiding frostbite in case of an emergency, alluding to the only way to cope with change

While balancing writing and remembering my own cold nights, where the radiator just didn’t make the cut, I realized that there’s some parallelism in this: freezing and losing ourselves in a strange culture. In other words, the way to cope with homesickness and cultural stagnation can be summarized in a list of similar steps that the ones followed in order to counter hypothermia.

So, I wrote down five steps on how to survive a foreign blizzard. In case of emergency.

1) In case of a blizzard, to tend the emergency, the priority must be to withdraw from the cold zone, from air drafts and, immediately, remove ones wet clothes, in case of having them, and dress warmly.

Ah yes, the cold zone. The arrival. The start of facing the unknown and crying on the bed, repeating to yourself “what was going through my mind?” Let’s start by repeating instead I am brave, I am capable. This phrase helped me to wield the blade against those nights in which desolation becomes almost unbearable. If you have arrived to this point, you can take on anything. And the air drafts? The wet clothes?

Paraphrasing my novels’ deuteragonist: “…first, you make sure you keep what is only yours, you shelter it and hide it, so you never lose it.” Yes, it’s important to dress our national identity warmly, to keep it in a box, lock it and safeguard it always near, because it may be whipped by the diverse conditions. No one else will have it in the host country, not identical at least. It’s easy to leave our box forgotten in the snow. Don’t open it when you get there because it’ll hurt. A lot.

 

2) Make sure you warm up your body with whatever is at your reach. Like blankets or wool clothes.

Homesickness normally creeps in in a way that we clutch ourselves with our little identity box, without wanting to move forward and accept the landscape that’s been presented before our eyes. I remember a moment in my time away from my home country where the touristic places seemed dull, uninteresting. I just wanted to stay locked up in my room, with my pc and the online connection of my friends back home.

There, the skin needs to be warmed with what we have at hand: new neighbors, strolls through the smallest of towns. Meeting the people around you, for more different that they may seem, or the places that at first glance don’t awaken your curiosity. Yes, it may not be the most exciting thing at the beginning, but those little moments warm up the soul.

It gives a new perspective to our eyes and, although it may not feel like that at the moment, we’re learning, maturing, and adapting step by step. If you ever return to your country of origin, you’ll see how much this little interactions and walks can mean. You’ll come to endear them with nostalgia. And even the smallest thing (train travels, the smell of the bakery around the corner…) becomes memorable.

3) Prevent the person from falling asleep and carefully observe their respiration. Normally, the appetite decreases, but eating is necessary to avoid hypoglycemia.

“…Then you get stronger, getting in contact with everything that surrounds you, but without letting yourself forget of who you are. You’ll feel that you don’t need it: your language, your identity, and so, you start to let it fade. Don’t let it happen.” Said the native. Indeed, customs and traditions fade away. The outlines that formerly defined us as an exotic, special person, become blurry in this anticipated step of adaptation. But it’s not to be forgotten that those same differences, that striking skin tone, that intolerance towards new eating habits and the strong, protruding accent, are the ones that have formed us in our host country. They are our roots, and a tree won’t blossom without them. To cut it is to alienate.

4) Move your fingers, hands or feet slowly and constantly. It is popularly believed that the less you move, more body heat will be retained. But it’s vital to keep the body in movement and to massage it in circles to increase the blood flow.

The so-called “superficial adaptation” comes when we enter a comfort zone. Where we’re pleased, where we’re merely fine. This is what I see as the most dangerous step, and the furthest one, towards cultural freezing. Where we get ourselves stuck in a little corner, accepting our facet of the immigrant and making it a part of us, retaining all of the negative connotations it holds as ourselves and coming to settle with a “good enough” situation for “someone like us”. No, you deserve more. More than a derogatory tone when we face the cashier while shopping.

More than becoming the aim of stereotypical jokes and pejorative addressing. Don’t remain neglected, don’t be aggressive either. Keep moving forward, the emotional hole in which we remain stuck will never be a true home, despite that it may seem so at the beginning.

5) Keep the body close tight besides yours or someone else’s, to accelerate body warming

Value your friends. Your foreign brothers, your broken-heart-colleagues. You’ll realize that, indeed, having a family isn’t always about sharing blood, but sharing hardships, tears. Nobody knows how long is the path that you’ve had to go through, but they may know how hard it is, they’ve walked their own.

When you find people that, besides language barriers, social conventions and cultural brakes, you can still manage to understand, you’ll have discovered that secret language that only the ones that have crossed frontiers know, that only the ones who have befriended someone who resides on the other side of the world can speak. That only the ones who’ve had to say goodbye to someone to faraway lands can read in someone else’s gestures.

Treasure them. Show them your identity, open the box. And so, we won’t be frozen in an episode of our lives, but own it, and make it a part of a whole.

“And when you learn to tell them apart, you will have found a home. It may not be the most comfortable one, or the safest. But a home, at the end of the day.”

This guest post is an extract from the novel Cómo sobrevivir una tormenta extranjera (How to survive a foreign storm), Larissa Quesada

Exchange

Time Flies When You’re On Exchange

So, Is that it?

It’s this time of the year. The time you, as an exchange student, realize that something great is coming to the end. You are trying to blend it out, but the thought is always with you. You have to say goodbye soon.

For me it never really was a big deal when I thought about going home. I was sure that I’m going to miss my exchange but I did not expect me to be extremely sad and sensible. And I really was fine! I can remember they told us at the pre orientation seminar that the last three month are going to be the hardest, because you just found your friends and your routine.

No homesickness anymore, no cultural shock, but you start thinking you have to go soon. But they could not prepare us for what was really coming. April and May turned out to be the best month of my exchange experience because of exactly these reasons.

The time was running and I barely could feel it. I still did not think that I could possibly realize my exchange was over before I get to the airport. At the beginning of May I had my prom and I had the time of my life. For my Birthday I got the yearbook of our school from my best friend so I could give it around and get it signed by everybody.

When I read the little note (it was more like a half paged letter) one of my friends left me in there it hit me like a rock. I started crying and I could not stop for hours. I finally realized that it is coming to an end and I have to say goodbye.

I think we all have this moment at one point of our exchange. A moment when you realize that this is going to end soon and you just don’t want it to. But this shows us that our exchange was a great experience and that we had the time of our life.

In between end of the year parties, graduation and other fun things the thought that we have to leave soon stays with us all the time though.

No matter how hard we try to enjoy these last weeks we will always be a little bit melancholic.

Looking back on my exchange year, I can not tell how fast the time was passing. I remember moments where it felt like I was crawling from day to day and thought that it’ll be an eternity until I I’ll be back home. On the other hand time was running and I was just rushing through the month.

The first month you spend abroad you might think that you not going to see your family again that soon, that you will live at this new and strange place for the next period of time and you have so many new experiences you can’t believe would fit in one month, but with the month passing, getting used to everything and getting a routine time flies by.

 

So far for me my days abroad are over. The last weeks are hard to describe. I tried making the best of the mixed feelings I had. Sometimes I would make jokes of it, sometimes I was sad. But for me it felt important to have these serious moments with my friends and host family and to tell them that I am going to miss them.

I hope that I will see all of them again soon and to keep in touch with them. But I know they will always be there for me, even if we might not have contact in a while.

Because you know your friendships are real as soon as you have to say goodbye. And that this goodbye won’t last forever.

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This guest post was written by Andrea Stützer, a German exchange student who is nearly ending her year in the United States.
Exchange

An Exchange Doesn’t Have To Be The Year Of Your Life

”The exchange doesn’t have to be the year of your life”

Sometimes I can feel like there’s a lot of pressure on you having the time of your life –all the time- during your exchange. Like the experience has to be life changing, eye-opening and completely amazing and that you, when it’s time to go back home, have to feel like you never want to leave. Like you’re supposed to book your plane ticket as late as possible and get all ‘OMG DONT TALK ABOUT I WILL CRYYY” when someone mentions your return.

And sure. Some of you will most likely feel like that, and of course that’s great! But if you don’t, if you (although it’s sad to leave) feel like it’s pretty nice to come home; don’t worry. You’re not an ungrateful, spoiled, negative crybaby. You just like your home. And that is, when you think about it, pretty great too.

You can’t spend a year having fun and being happy every single minute. Doing an exchange is hard. It has its ups and downs, just like the life back home. The only difference is that the ups might be even higher and the downs even deeper.

Doing an exchange is amazing, no doubt. You will learn and experience so much, you will get so many great memories and weird stories to tell and you will get friends all over the world, a second (and maybe a third and forth) family. It is, truly, a great experience.

But. You will get bored sometimes, just like home. You will complain about school, just like home. You will get annoyed at your host parents, just like your real parents. You will have days when all you want to do is to lie in your bed and watch Netflix and eat chocolate. Days when you feel like you’d rather been back home and ask yourself: “why did I go?” (Even if this, hopefully, is just temporary).

And you know what? That’s okay.

It’s okay if you’re not all amazed about your year abroad. If you don’t feel like it changed your life forever. If your friends at home still are your better friends. If you don’t get along super well with your host brother. If you don’t feel like you could spend the rest of your life in your host country. If you count the days that are left until you see your parents again. Don’t feel guilty about it.

Don’t worry about you not trying hard enough or being ungrateful. All those things don’t have to mean you’re not happy about your exchange. That you don’t like your host country or the people or the food or your city. It just means you like your life at home too. And the exchange will always be, even if you didn’t have the time of your life all the time, a great experience and something you should never regret that you did.

This post was written by Elma Pålsson born 1996, from a small village in the south of Sweden, doing an exchange in a small town in the middle of the pampas in Argentina, named Coronel Suarez. (14-15) with Rotary.

Exchange

Is An Exchange Really Worth It?

A few days ago someone told me “My family would never accept you. I mean, you took a year off to go party in France, you’re 19, and just barely started college”.

Good thing it was over the phone cause I swear I would’ve slapped the heck out of this person without thinking it twice. My mind was clouded in anger, I felt insulted, as if this individual had said something about my mother.

When this happened, I did nothing, I just decided to ignore itand continue the conversation at pure ease, as if nothing ever happened. Days later, here I am, writing this essay or article or whatever I decide for it to be.

Trust me, it’s not the first time I ask myself this. Most of my friends graduated at 17, already have 2 years of college, half of their careers, or almost ready to graduate and continue on with their masters. Then there’s me.

I also graduated at 17, but I decided to do a year abroad in France, learn my third language, and start college at 18. I started college at 19, turns out life does not always end up as expected. Anyway, as I mentioned before, I have thought about this several times before.

Was it worth it? I’m 2 years behind, still not sure about life, and seeing how everyone around me is at least halfway through their career or one year away from graduating. Was it really worth it?

The answer is yes. Hell yes. Hell yeah. In any way you want to see it, the answer is yes. Am I graduating 2 years later than most of my friends? Yes. Does that mean I’m a failure? No. Going on exchange made me understand a lot of things.

Things that people are not able to learn inside a classroom. It taught me tolerance towards others. It taught me to be curious towards other cultures, and not only cultures, but towards every aspect of life. I learned how to investigate, ask, learn, comprehend. It taught me that being lost is not a bad thing. Sooner or later you will find yourself.

It taught me that family could extend to places you never thought it could. It taught me that the world is not as big as we think it is. And let me just ask you, could I learn that during the first two years of college?

Exchange is hard. Living abroad is hard. Not understanding a word is hard. Not knowing what is happening is hard. It’s a shit show, trust me, but it’s a shit show that is worth going through. It’s worth living it every second of every day.

So, to the person that said that to me, I do not care what your family or really what anyone thinks of me and the fact that I took a year off to “party”, Sure, I had a great time abroad, but it was full of obstacles I had to overcome. Obstacles that made me who I am today, and I could not be any happier with the person I became.

 

This guest post was submitted by Ana Vásquez

Post-Exchange Life

When Everything Is Possible After Your Exchange

I don’t know if all of you have the same feeling as me after going back home, but here is my story.

I haven’t been shy since I turned 12 and started to wear braces. I never had problems with my look, with having friends or traveling. I was kinda mature, independent and knew what I wanted to do in my life. So my exchange wasn’t exactly about that. But it changed my life the way I wasn’t expecting – all of us experienced this.

The changes started quick (earlier than magic three months). In my case firstly I started to see the change in my body – obviously I gained weight (again like most of us). Later I saw more interesting changes like having feelings different than happiness or sadness (yeah I was kinda heartless before exchange haha). Later I realized how much I have learned and grew up. How problems are not problems anymore.

How being sometimes lonely is not the end of the world. How forcing yourself to be a good exchange student by not staying all the time in your room, trying to talk with host families in a free time, helping them in the house, going for Rotary meetings, helping with Rotary programs, being thankful and even going to school every single day is not that bad and you actually like it.

Changes  go on and on, because exchange is not only going to other country and someone is comings to yours – it’s also in my opinion (ex)changing yourself into a new person who is mostly better you, who will not be recognized by your family or friends, but it’s ok, it’s good, it’s really good! Remember this!

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Going to the topic of this post. After all these changes happened I returned home. My parents already knew that I had changed, but my friends didn’t. About some things I hadn´t even though. My friends told me – for example I started to wear dresses, I stopped to friend zone boys and actually started to flirt with them. I didn’t care about what people thought about me any more. Then came first day of school and it began – all the things which seemed impossible for some people were pretty easy. I came to my school knowing only few names (because all my friends have graduated when I was on exchange). None of them were my friend and after less than a month I had friends who I could hang out with, in the first week I wasn’t sitting alone in the classes (and it wasn’t because someone had to sit next to me because of no more free spots) or staying alone on the hallway. After four months I started to have a boyfriend (another huge change at me for my friends who remember my ex from the beginning of high school and few random kisses, because as I mentioned earlier I opened my heart for feeling during the year abroad). I count it as a little success after exchange hahaha

Later I had a huge challenge with organizing Rotary meeting in my city for exchange students in Poland. That’s a thing which is organized by Rotaract club every year and as I’m a member and I didn’t know how hard it was I have decided to do it. I supposed to have a lot of help from others members, but like we all know everyone has their own lives and not everybody can help you and of course I revived some help, but so mostly I had to do everything by myself – luckily one of the guys who was organizing this meeting two years earlier helped me by telling me what I have to do, giving me all the contacts and other stuff, but it was still crazy.

It was all did in three weeks, one of the most difficult weeks in my life, trying to get everything done so all the Rotary people will be happy and what is more important make this three days amazing for almost 60 exchange students. After having a huge problem with booking a hotel, because there was also some other event in my city and all the hotels where booked, I had some other issues and finally few days before I was just praying.

Finally, it all went so good, awesome and exchange students were very satisfied. And from then on I knew that the only way I could have done it is because I “survived” a year on exchange.
During this year I also applied for new in my country Rotary exchange program (New Generation Exchange), which is a program for few weeks (6 weeks to three months) in the other country where You can have an internship. I would never say before my year in US that I will go on next vacation to South America – and I did, I’m here in Colombia.

I stay here for a little bit longer than two month and I feel so good. I feel amazing being exchange student again, living in the other country, meeting new people, learning a language (which we all know is sometimes so hard), traveling and loving it so badly that I don’t wanna go home.

I could go on with things which became possible after coming back home, but I guess this already says enough. I just wanna add; everything is possible during and after your exchange. It’s your life, your new life!

Take chances, don’t overthink it, make this year your year, makes your dream come true during rest of your life and when you come back home remember that you are exchange student and that you will always be, not all the people will understand you, for the closest one or just friends (for me it’s my boyfriend) it may be so hard to figure out why are you going abroad again, why do you keep in touch with people who you met few times and who are miles away from you. But I can tell you one thing – do in Your life whatever YOU want to do and not others wants you to do – be independent, be different, crazy, free and you will have a great time! And now go live your life, have fun and remember you can only reagent things that you haven’t done

This post was written by Magda. She is 20-year-old Polish girl who did her exchange in Colorado, USA.

 

 

Exchange Student Problems, Study Abroad 101

How To Beat Homesickness

Homesickness. It is probably something everyone has to deal with at some point in their life, and it´s awful. However, despite what it might feel like, homesickness might not necessarily be about you missing ‘home´ but more about you missing ´a home´, in the sense that you might miss the feeling of a more stable, reliable and familiar situation. The lack of a familiar situation can make you nostalgic for the things you had before, even if you never even liked them at the time (in the academic world, this is called the Nutella Syndrom). This can result in you trying to hold on to the past, which will make the homesick, ending up in a vicious cycle. However, you can break this cycle by following these two steps.

Step 1: Make Peace With Your Old Home

It´s very normal to feel homesick from time to time, but it´s a horrible feeling that ultimately will make all parts of your life much harder. After all, your home what you have known for a big part of your life. The challenge is to find a balance in cherishing the memories, without this interfering with your new life.

Now, in order to get rid of your homesickness you have to make peace with the fact that the place you are longing for is not a reality at the moment, and that doesn´t have to be a bad thing. Things change all the time, and so you have to change. Try not to think in the past but in the future.

A very important part of not trying to live in the past is to make sure the way you are keeping contact with your friends and family back home isn´t taking over your life. If you want to know what the best way to keep contact with home is, click here to read the article ‘How To Keep Contact With Your Friends And Family While Being Abroad´.

One thing that can help is to write yourself a letter about all the things you didn´t like about home. You can write this letter beforehand, in a moment you are angry or upset, but if you are suffering from homesickness right now it might be a better idea to write a list of things you didn´t like. This can be anything from the weather to family arguments or a bad valuta. This is not necessarily to demonize your old home, but for you to find a balance. When feeling homesick people often romanticize and idealize their old home, and ´ ideal´ places could never live up to reality.

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Step 2: Create A New Home

This might seem like an obvious one, but getting a new home will most likely take care of the nostalgic feelings you are having about your old home. The best way to do this is to create a routine that you follow. Decorate your place in a way that makes it feel like home. Of course, this is easier said that done, but here are a few things you can think of.

Create A Routine

Try to do certain things at the same time. That means waking up at the same time, taking a morning walk around the same park, getting coffee at the same place, giving a dollar to the same homeless man in front of the supermarket. Creating a new routine will help you find your place when everything is new and will help create a more stable environment.

Part of this might be to decorate your house, and make it into a home! Hang pictures on the wall (preferably pictures that aren´t of your friends and family back home). Try to make it a nice environment that will make you feel comfortable and more at ease.

Learn The Language

When you move to a different place and don´t know the language, it´s hard to expect to feel at home. Learning the language might be hard, but putting in all the effort in the first months will definitely pay off on the long run!

In order to make more contacts, you could also join a Language Exchange group, or ask people around you to help. You would be surprised how many people are willing to help you learn! But don´t forget, you are the outsider, which means you will have to take most of the initiative. Local people already have a social circle and even if they really did enjoy meeting you, for them there is just not the same amount of pressure to make a new friendship or to make an effort to meet you.

Create New Traditions

One of the things we usually miss about our old homes are the traditions. Therefore, an easy solution to missing the old traditions is to make new ones. Have a dinner night at your place every Friday night. Have a certain spot where you and your friends always meet. Try to incorporate some of the local traditions into your daily life. Even if you don´t get them, or they are not the same as they were at home, new traditions will quickly make you feel more at home and before you know it, you´ll be in some other place feeling homesick for the new memories you have created. 

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Make Friends

Obviously having a group of friends around you is very beneficial to your well-being, and I don´t think I have to spend any more words explaining why. If you are not sure how to go about making new friends, don´t panic. In the post ‘How To Make Local Friends Abroad´ I explain how you can find yourself some local friends.a

Again, don´t forget, you are the outsider, which means you will have to take most of the initiative. Local people already have a social circle and even if they really did enjoy meeting you, for them there is just not the same amount of pressure to make a new friendship or to make an effort to meet you, which is why it is sometimes hard to make friends abroad. Don´t worry though, realizing why people sometimes don´t  seem to care as much as you do is half of the work. Don´t feel afraid to ask someone again if they couldn´t make it the first time.

If you´d rather have international friends, you might want to consider joining an Expat or Exchange student network. Facebook offers a great amount of Facebook group these days, so just try and search for ‘Expats [ insert city or province name ]´ and see what comes up!

Or maybe you could even join a dating site or use an app like Tinder to go on romantic dates. Having some love in your life could make all the pain go away in a second!

Talk about it

It´s okay to let people know you are struggling with this. Maybe not everyone will understand to the same extent what it feels like to miss home, but the majority of people are more than understanding to the subject, and the fact that they know you are going through this can make them more open and helping towards you.

One of the most comforting things in hard times is knowing that you are not alone. Therefore, it might even be more comforting to speak to other foreigners, as they are probably going through the same process. Even if other people don´t seem to show it, you will probably be surprised how many people are feeling just as miserable as you at times (and are really good at hiding it!). Feel no shame, you are not alone!

Keep a journal

I would recommend everyone to do this. Keeping a diary can help you reflect on your emotions. It´s good to read back things you have written years, months or even days before. It can help you remember the things you maybe didn´t like when you were back home, or how much you longed to go abroad. It can also keep track of your progress in the process of feeling at home in your new place. Reading back the first impressions you had, how lost you felt in the first days will make you realize how far you´ve come already.

 

In the end, time might be the best remedy. Don´t beat yourself up about, because feeling homesick is natural. Just don´t think that going back home will solve that problem.

If you ever feel the need to talk, you can always reach me through the Nationality Unknown Facebook page

 

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories

The Exchange Roller Coaster

Being an exchange student is just like riding a roller coaster. Let me explain why.

First of all, you find out about exchange programs in different ways. In my case, I saw a documentary on TV about a French Rotary Exchange Student going to the USA for a year. It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade, and I was not 13 yet. I immediately knew this kind of program was made for me ! But, you know, I was too young… Just like when you go to the amusement park, you really want to try this new ride, but you have to be 5 feet tall, and you’re only 4’8”… So you’re parents tell you that in a couple years you will maybe be able to ride it, but the silently hope for you to forget about this crazy idea.

As soon as I knew such exchange programs existed, I started making research about it, reading blogs, talking on forums etc. And then, And in the beginning of 9th grade, I was officially able to apply, I would have been 15 during my exchange. I was finally 5 feet tall ! But from your parents point of view, you are still too little to ride this roller coaster, too young to go away…

So I just waited another year. And at the end of freshmen year, I applied to what was about to change my life. My parents let me get into the line for this amazing ride !


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A very long line, though… That is where it all starts. You fill in paperwork, just like when you show your amusement park pass. You wait in line, you like when you wait for a host country.

You get excited when people in front of you move, just like when you receive that “Host Family” email. You see the ride running, and the riders being so happy from far away, just like you read exchange students adventures on their blogs. But most of it, you wait, and burn of impatience.

And then, comes the moment you hop on the roller coaster. The moment you are actually going, actually leaving your family, your friends, your home, your bed etc. You have that bittersweet feeling, between excitement and nervousness… But you can’t back out (and you don’t want to anyways, you’ve been waiting for this moment for 3 whole years !).

And here it goes. The plane takes off, the wagon starts moving. It goes up, up, up, just like your emotions. You’re feeling so happy, everything is perfect in your host country ! And at some point, the ride goes down… You’re scared, homesick, angry etc. But pretty quickly, it stabilizes and you get used to the new language, the new food, you start making friends. As everybody knows, roller coasters have many ups and downs, and so have exchanges.

But in the end, you realize you have to hop off the ride, and walk away from it. You don’t want to, but on the other hand, you know your family, your friends, your home, your bed, are waiting for you on the other side of the ocean. So, this bittersweet feeling comes back. Way more bitter than sweet in my case…

Because I had to leave what had become my family, my friends, my home, my bed. This all went by way too fast…

You get down from this roller coaster with the outside certainty that you will ride it again over and over and over, but the inside fear that maybe you will never get to experience such an amazing experience, that you will never be given such a huge opportunity again…

So you walk away from it, and start feeling nostalgic. Maybe, all of this was just a dream, after all ! This need to go back to this ride is here, and some of us will fulfill this need, and go back on the roller coaster to visit their families, friends, homes, beds, across the globe. Others will let this away for a little bit, and go on other adventures in the amusement park.

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This was my definition of being an exchange student. Our year abroad itself is the accomplishment of a lot of work and determination. It is a very enriching and learning experience. But in the end, if you look at your life like you look at an amusement park, and your exchange being that one roller coaster, you realize that many more opportunities are awaiting for you!

This guest post was written by Agathe, a 17 year old French Rotary Exchange Student to the USA (2014-2015)

Exchange Example Stories, Post-Exchange Life

I Never Left The Plane

This August marks the 8th anniversary of the beginning of my exchange year, when I was only a 16 years old kid who was trying to survive high school like everybody.

That day I left the comfort of my reality in Chile with this program called AFS (American Field Service) and went to this unknown country named Norway, only knowing the name of the capital, the name of my host family, and how to count from 1 to 8 in the local language.

Like many former exchange students, I could go for hours about all the stories I have from that year, both good and bad: New Year’s Eve with a blizzard, that time I fell on the snow while walking downhill, the joy and the cultural shocks I had with my host family and school, the russetid, the conversation with a Thai friend about the differences of the word «you» in both Spanish and Thai, etc.

However, there is but one thing I always highlight of that period: it redefined my life, my behaviour and ideas. The person I am today was born during that year.

As time went by and I came back to Chile, volunteering with other exchange students was the only place where I felt I connected.

At school I didn’t have many friends and having different priorities from my classmates eventually drove us apart. My mom hasn’t gone on exchange at any point of her life, but she somehow understood what I was going through, that my dreams and expectations were different from the people around me, and that the exchange students’ community was my place.

When I finished high school and decided to move to the capital for university, she gave me this smile and told me «I knew you would leave and do your own thing, because you never really got off the plane».

I didn’t have any idea of what she meant at that point, but I had a new year ahead so I just went with it. New city, new people, new life.

And of course, I kept being a volunteer with AFS. I eventually became the contact person to a Finnish student and the applicants I did the personal interview became returnees, and then volunteers themselves.

I was in my zone, with all the stories of cultural shocks and learning how to deal with them, understanding our own national identity through the stories of internationals, meeting different cultures from all over the place, languages, other ways of thinking, and so and so on.

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One day, some people went to my Faculty to promote the Exchange Program between my home university and several institutions around the world. The University of Oslo was among the names, I checked the programs, some classes and I called my mom telling her that I wanted to go on exchange to Norway again, if she could help me out financially and such. Her answer was «What took you so long?».

The application letter was rather easy because I clearly knew the reasons of why I wanted to go back to Norway: I was in love with the country and with being an exchange student, the decision of studying Environmental Engineering was heavily influenced by my year there.

I got accepted and while I was doing all the visa procedures I wrote an email to AFS Norway telling them I was going back and wanted to be a volunteer there. «Drop by when you come to Oslo » was their answer.

So in August 2014, I arrived once again to the Oslo airport. Walking in front of me was this woman whose passport fell to the ground, I grabbed it and told her «Unnskyld, det er din» («Sorry, it’s yours»), to which she told me thanks in Norwegian.

My first conversation in Norwegian in almost four years. It felt like home.

Sometimes, it was quite overwhelming to be a volunteer in Norway since many of the doubts the exchange students had were the same I personally had during my own exchange: how to interact with norwegians, how to speak to that person, how to behave with my host family.

I was reviving my own exchange through the experiences of these kids. Besides AFS, I also joined the Erasmus community within the University (even though I wasn’t an Erasmus myself), and with my own itchy feet I filled my schedule with all sort of international-related activities. Damn, I even joined the norwegian student parlament representing the international students.


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In the AFS pre-orientation for the Norwegian students who would go on exchange soon, I met this girl who was going to Chile, so we of course, ended up talking about this strange and thin piece of land. She began her exchange at the beginning of August 2015, almost at the same time I finished mine in Norway.

It was yet another side on the exchange experience, as some of the cultural shocks and experiences she was going through in Chile, I lived them on reverse in the other hemisphere.

It seemed that the intercultural learning would follow me everywhere I went, and I think I now understand what my mom meant with the «you never got off the plane».

I have been conciously and unconciously tied with internationaly-minded people since I first went on exchange, with the vast amount of humans that live here.

I have taken a bunch of planes here and there, but the dream of making the world a better place through mutual understanding among different cultures remains the same regardless of what’s the closest airport I have at the given moment.

Some say «Exchange is not a year in your life, but a life in a year», for me exchange has been a life within itself, this story of exchange is my story and the story of many other fellow people who have embraced the same life.

The moral of this long post?

Those of you have got inside the plane, don’t get off, the exchange will last as much as you want it. If that means forever, so be it!

jeg

 

This guest post was written by Javier Æøå, originally from Chile and an AFS exchange student in Norway.

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories, Final months of exchange

Why I Wasn’t Afraid to Go on Exchange, but am Afraid to Go Home

When I first realized that I wanted to go on exchange, I immersed myself in research. First, I frantically read about all the countries I was interested in going to. At that point I had two requirements, I wanted to go to Europe and I wanted to learn a new language. After weeks of researching, I came to the conclusion that Austria was the right country for me. At the time, I didnt know much about Austria other than stereotypes, including a love for skiing, beer drinking and the Sound of Music.

The next few months were spent convincing my parents about all the reasons why it would be beneficial for me to participate in an exchange year. I scoured the internet for blogs where they could read about how fast other exchange students learned the language, immersed themselves in the culture, and what the benefits of an exchange were for them later in life. I guess you could say that I was obsessed with reading about other peoples experiences.

When it was time to fly to Austria I was buzzing with excitement. I couldnt wait to meet my new family and see my new home. Although I was excited, I wasnt nervous. I had read in other exchange students blogs how you should have no expectations about your host country or family. I tried really hard not to expect anything, or have any ideas or plans on how my exchange year should be. I was completely open to new experiences. This lack of expectation for my exchange year helped with my nerves, and I think really helped me fit into with my host family and Austria.

Now Im almost nine months into my exchange. Ive made myself a life in Austria with a new friend group, family, language, and culture. One of my biggest obstacles in my exchange year was the language. At the beginning, I was so frustrated with myself because I wanted to speak and understand German so badly, and I felt as if I wasnt learning it quickly enough. Eventually around December, I went to a Christmas party, drank little too much wine (which gave me a lot of confidence) and I just spoke without thinking too much about it.

That night something just clicked in my brain. I was so happy! Now, I understand almost everything, and while I still have problems with grammar I can speak my mind. Overcoming the language barrier was the last obstacle for me in feeling at home in Austria.

 

The last few months here have been amazing, Ive really settled into my life. Sadly, however, it´s all slowly coming to an end. In less than 2 months I fly back to Canada. And Im honestly so afraid. I feel like Ive forgotten how my life was in Canada, and what my friends and family are like.

Ive forgotten how I act around my friends and family and feel like Ive changed so much since coming to Austria that people in Canada may not recognize me anymore. I have so many expectations for what life will be like again in Canada, how my friends will act, and how the food will taste, that even though Ive lived in Canada for my entire life I still am afraid for what awaits me at home.

This exchange year has been wonderful and I would gladly repeat the experience. It has taught me a lot about the power of expectations and how they can affect a persons life and ability to start from scratch all over again. Hopefully, everyone can learn about the power of expectations from my adventure in Austria!

This post was written by Sam Treacy. You can read more of her on her blog Simply Wanderstruck

Exchange, Exchange Example Stories, Exchange Student Problems

The Day I Became Mexican

I am from Brazil, a state of Mexico, the biggest country in Latin America, I am tan, and my native language is Portuguese, which is the same as Spanish. I have always lived in the forest because we do not have cities there. We have to plant our own food and hunt wild animals. However, hunting is a man’s job only, because women are not able to do such a complicated thing. We usually have to cook our mandatory spicy food and wash the clothes in the river, but we need to be very careful with poisonous snakes. The only things that are entertaining to us are soccer, samba and Carnival—an event that lasts the whole year.
These things may sound unlikely or even ridiculous for someone to say or assume, but they are all assumptions that people have asked me about since the first time I stepped on American soil when I moved to Oregon two years ago. Most people automatically assume that I am from Mexico, and it might be because of my tan skin, my dark hair, and my Latin accent when pronouncing some words in English. Or it could be they’re so accustomed to relying on the shorthand syllogism “People from Mexico are tan. Latin Americans are tan. Therefore, all Latin Americans are from Mexico.”

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I am from Brazil, the largest country out of the twenty nations in Latin America, which hosts Sao Paulo, the biggest city proper in the Americas, the place where I was born and raised. Brazil has a population of 200.4 million people, and it is the having five World Cup titles—the most in the world. However, the country is not only made of soccer. Brazil has won a total of 108 medals in all Olympics, and tourists visit from all over to experience our vibrant arts, music, and dance culture. Brazilian cuisine is diverse and delicious, and only a small percentage of it is spicy.

Stereotypes exist because of a lack of curiosity and generalizations in our beliefs. It is often an automatic reaction to relate something new and unfamiliar to something familiar—even if that “something familiar” is only what we’ve heard other people say. A lack of knowledge creates an association between two distinct things resulting in a mistaken assumption of fact. No, Brazil is not part of Mexico. No, Portuguese and Spanish are not the same thing. No, I do not live in the forest. No, not all our food is spicy.

No, not all Latin Americans are from Mexico. I understand it is easy to make assumptions, but it is also easy to ask, 5th biggest country in the world. It has 26 states in its territory, and it is part of the emerging national economies group BRICS. Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, one of the eight Romantic languages that evolved from Latin, and also the official language of nine other countries. Brazil is known for “Where are you from?” “Where is that at?” or “What language do you speak?” No one needs to know every single detail about every country, but common respect and curiosity about every race, will keep our eyes open to all the beauties that other cultures have to offer

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This post was written by Isadora Cardoso, a Brazilian exchange student in Oregon (United States)