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 !
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.
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)