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Final months of exchange

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.

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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.

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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 Student Problems, Final months of exchange, Homesickness

Homesickness: Fact or Fiction?

If you know me at all, you know I’m one to take risks. I’d rather jump off the deep end than ease in from the shallow side. This is how I ended up in South America. Why go to college close to home when you can get on a plane and go to another part of the world for a year? So far this thinking is working well for me. However, there’s a misconception that people who dive into the deep end also never look back.

“Are you homesick?” A frequent question I get. The short answer, no. The long, well… keep reading.

I was hesitant to write this because I don’t want people thinking I’m having a bad time or want to go home–that’s completely incorrect. My life here is still great. But I also feel a bit cold when I solemnly answer “no,” as if my life before was so mundane that I’ve already forgotten it.

So no, I’m not homesick. That’s the truth. No part of me wants to board the next plane to Minneapolis. However, I still often think of my life back home and although I’m not homesick, there are still things I miss.

It goes like this: while driving to school here I’ll think of how I’d walk to school in the fall. I’ll remember that autumn smell in the air and the sound of the leaves and I’ll think, I miss that.

Or, I’ll be at an ice cream shop and remember eating the melty top layer of ice cream from the container with my mom right after we’d brought it home from the store and I’ll think, I miss that, too.

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When someone asks me about carving pumpkins, something not done here, I’ll remember my dad calling me “Pumkin,” and I’ll even miss rolling my eyes when he tells, yet again, the story with the nickname (ask him for details).

I miss the smell of my mom’s French toast cooking on a Saturday morning, chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin spice lattes, my cat’s persistent meowing. I miss sleepovers at my grandma’s, late night baking with my closest friends.

The part hard to convey in words is how these memories make me feel isn’t homesick. The only sad part about them is how I didn’t appreciate them as much as I wish I had. The sad truth is, I didn’t realize how much I loved my life until I left it. Again, this isn’t because my life here is bad, because it’s not. But when you take away what you’ve always had and surround yourself with a new world, the important parts don’t fade away, they become clearer.

I’ve never had a moment here where I thought, “Wow, I really miss those expensive shoes I bought!” or “I’m so happy I worried so much about always having perfect hair!” No, those are the parts that are fading.

I become more grateful with each memory that surfaces. Grateful for eighteen years of sleepovers at my grandma’s, for chocolate chip cookies and cool autumn breezes. For French toast, nicknames, and perfectly melty ice cream.

I’ve never wished to grow up faster. From the time my dad said I was too big for piggy backs, I wanted to be smaller again.

That’s why the day I turned from my family at the airport, there were tears in my eyes. I realized then that my life wasn’t just changing for a year, it was changing forever. I don’t get to be a kid anymore. And I’m not going to lie, that part does make me sad but the beautiful truth of missing what you had is that it means what you had is worth missing. It means you were lucky. And by God, was I ever.

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I’ve had parents who’ve supported me from odd requests such as “I want to play the harp,” to “I want to go to South America.” I’ve had an extended family that made family get-togethers something I loved. I’ve had a church community that is not just my church, but my family.

I’ve had so much yet I’ve appreciated so little. While this makes me a little mad at myself, it doesn’t make me sad because, although that last paragraph is written in the past tense, I know that it’s still my present.

I have a church family that loves and supports me, even from so far away. I have the best (sometimes craziest) extended family. I have the best, supportive parents.

Coming here did not make me lose any of these things, it’s only extending my list.

I know that a year from now, I’ll miss the smell of the tea-like drink Cocido. I’ll miss seeing the skyline of Argentina across the river peeking through the morning mist each day. I’ll miss singing in the band and the sound of my sibling’s laughter.

Many say that thinking of home will only make you sad– but for me, it’s the opposite. I’m not homesick because I know I won’t take for granted the details I now know I cherish. Just because something is in your past doesn’t mean it can’t still be in your future.

Mom, even when you’re 99 I’ll buy us melty ice cream to eat together. I’ll come home from college just to get pumpkin spice lattes with you. Dad, I’ll always be your pumkin (I also still accept piggy back rides if you were wondering). And Grandma, I hope you realize I’m still planning on having sleepovers at your house.

There is no age limit to do the things you love. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity because I now see how precious each day really is. What I’ve realized is this– you can either live in moments you realize you love later, or you can love the moments that you live in now.

 

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This guest post was written by Jackie Warehime, an 18 year old girl from Minnesota who is currently spending her exchange year in Paraguay. Want to read more from her then visit her blog  Jackie in Paraguay

Final months of exchange, Post-Exchange Life

Leaving a life behind

It’s not a year in a life, it’s a life in a year is probably the most cliché saying in the exchange-world. However, it could not be truer. In my opinion, it is close to impossible to be the same person in your home country as in the country of your exchange. During the first months, the language barrier most of us have makes it hard to completely show people who you really are and when you finally reach a level where you can start expressing yourself, you have realized the differences in how people interact as well as understood to some extent how you should act to fit in – which probably differs from the person you was before you left. You might not realize it while still being in your host country but you ought to notice when you come home and everyone you knew expects you to be the same, when in reality the year that passed changed you more than any other year in your life.

By leaving your country, you won’t only leave behind friends and family, but also a part of the person you have become. A person with different views, a different language and a different lifestyle that might not be suitable for the country you called home for the majority your life. The ones of you still being on your exchange might not have reached the point where you realize this, but I have and all of you post-exchange students reading this probably knows what I’m talking about. In the moment I am writing this, sitting in the Argentinian sun, listening to cumbia while the asado is being cooked and all I can think about is, I am leaving soon. I have 107 days left in my magical city, 108 days left until I leave the country and one additional day until I am back on Scandinavian ground…

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My grandmother always tells me how life isn’t fair. How me and my sisters can’t get exactly the same amount of cake or presents for Christmas, but this, this is almost too unfair for me to handle. I have just found my place with my family, with my friends and with the country and then I am just supposed to pack my bags and leave? What sort of sick irony is that? You can forget to try and talk to anyone about it because they will not – cannot – understand. None of your friends understand the connection you get with your host country and all its pros and cons, because they never went on an exchange. My mother told me that I “should think about it as a glass half full instead of half empty”, but mom it’s harder than you think (and here I feel the need to add that neither did she go on an exchange).

Most exchange students count the days connected to their year. First, the days until you are going away which turns into the amount of days you have been in your host-country and then, how many days you have left followed by how many since you’ve been back. I believe the one that makes you feel most divided is the counting of how many days you have left. Of course you are excited to go back, to see your loved ones again after so long, to hug your parents and joke around with your siblings. But at the same time you never want the day to arrive, because it also means you have to leave a completely different life behind.

What most people say when I voice my feelings about leaving is; “But you can always come back and visit!” Yes of course I can and I promise that I will use every penny I have to spare on trying to return, but what they don’t understand is that it will never be the same. If (when) I come back it will be as a visitor, not as a part of society. A visitor that knows the people, the language and the culture but a visitor nonetheless, something temporary. I will never again be a students with my current classmates.

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 I will never again listen to my economy teachers really bad jokes, or experience my English teacher’s mood swings and I will never again celebrate Teacher’s day or Family day or Student’s day because everyone I know will have moved on. Moved on to work, to study and some are even moving out of the country… Never again will it be the same.

So while sitting here in the Argentinian sun, enjoying the music and the smell of the world’s best meat I can’t help but wonder, what will be left of my “life in a year” when I return?

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This post was written by Erika, a 17 year old girl from Sweden who spent her exchange year in Cordoba, Argentina. She comes from a big family of exchange students and if you want to know more about her (and know Swedish) you can check out her blog (there is also a little translation button on the site)

Exchange, Final months of exchange, Guest Post

Thoughts on exchange

This is a guest post written by Elma Pålsson

The same second you decide to do an exchange you decide to live with distance relationships. In the rest of your life, not only the year you actually live abroad.

You’ll have to be prepared to miss, because you will miss things. Silly things like the jam you put on your sandwich, the smell of your laundry detergent or maybe that sweater you couldn’t fit in your suitcase. Obviously you’ll miss your friends and family too… you will realize who actually means something for you, and how much they mean. How much you like them and care about them, and that’s something amazingly nice to realize. You’re happy that you left because you learn to value what (and those) you’re coming home to.

But then, once you’re back, the missing won’t end. Once you’re home you’ll start to miss all your new friends and families back home in the country that has become just that: home.

It’s like you’re giving and leaving a small piece of yourself to each person you get to know and who’ll mean something for you during your exchange. It’s like all your relationships (not least with other exchange students) mean so very much and are so very important. Maybe it’s not that weird when you think about it… you get there all alone and lost, maybe you don’t speak the language and don’t quite understand the culture… you’re so terrible exposed (even though you might not realize it in the moment) that each friend you get, each kindly minded classmate our host family-member, who helps you and takes you in like one of them, means everything in the beginning.

Or no… that’s not entirely true. They mean a lot, but not everything.

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The truth is that the one who means the most is you. You and no one else have the greatest power over how your exchange will be. It’s (mostly) you who decides, your attitude and your will to adapt and seize the day. And you learn so much, not least about yourself; of how much you’re capable of, that you can handle the vulnerability in the beginning completely on you own. And that’s something you should be really proud of. Not every person dares to take that step and put itself in that situation, all alone in a (most likely) completely unknown context. But you did. You dared.

At least I am very proud of myself, and happy. Proud and happy I took the decision to actually leave. Proud and happy I got through those first, hard months when I barely understood a thing and (although the people around me) was completely alone in a strange country, full of strangers who spoke a strange language… because then all suddenly you stand there, in the end of your exchange, and in some way without you even noticing it the strange country has become a second home, the strangers have become family and the strange language has become the soundtrack to your dreams.

And that’s what makes you so happy that you took the step. That you actually dared, even if it might leave you half, longing and missing for the rest of your life

Because maybe that’s what the exchange is all about. To leave behind a piece of yourself and bring with you a piece of your host country. An exchange, as it were.

 

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, Exchange Student Problems, Final months of exchange, Host Family, Study Abroad

Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of The Unknown

This is a guest post written by Monica Sanchez Hernandez


“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”- Andre Gide

We, as humans, get scared easily once we are taken out of our comfort zone, even the most adventurous ones. Getting into the unknown terrifies us. Our minds get filled up with a bunch of “what ifs” that most of the times stop us from doing something we really want to do. We are used to the easy stuff. The least we have to work to get something the better. But that is not really our fault. Society taught us that. We live in a world where shortcuts are allowed. Where the people that get to the top by simple and random luck are more known than the ones that work hard every day of their lives to achieve their goals. This goes to the hard workers, to the ones that don’t let their fear stop them from getting where they want.

August 16th from this past year, I left Spain for the United States. I packed my life in a suitcase and I left. It was easy at first, because it looked like I was only leaving for a few weeks. It was easy because something inside me was telling me that I would not really miss anything nor anyone. But that part of me was mistaken.

One of the most exciting parts of an exchange year during high school is when you get the information about your going-to-be host family. You have been waiting for months to know where are you going to be living for the next school year, to know who are you going to share your experience with. And it finally comes. You wake up and you see the e-mail that is going to change your life. That is it. Now you know you are leaving for sure. You can not stop thinking about how everything is going to be like. You try to look for as much information as you can get. And the day of your departure comes, and you have to leave. Leave your family, leave your friends, leave everything for a year. The only detail you are missing is that your life there will not stop just because you are not there. Your friends will do their own thing, your family will live without you for a year. Everything will change while you are on the other side of the world trying to start a new life that you will have to leave after a year.
There is something that I have been asking myself lately an that I can’t stop thinking about. What is easier, to leave the life that I had been building for the past 15 years of my life, or to create a new life in a year and to have to leave it forever?

It is the bitter-sweetness at the end of the year that really tells you that even though it was not easy, you made it, and the feeling that you get is awesome. At some times you may cry, thinking about how fast the year went by and how much you are going to miss everyone, but you feel happy and excited to go back to what you left behind the last year.

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Wisconsin has been my home for this past nine months, and I can’t think of a better place to spend an exchange year. There is something about the people in this state that really makes it feel like home.
When I got here I did not know that I would end up changing my host family. I thought that everything would be easy, and that all that the experienced kids from the past years told me about missing home and missing your family, would not happen to me. But let me tell you something… it did, and it was hard. When things do not go as well as you expected them to go, you suddenly just want to hide under the bed and wait for somebody to fix it for you. And that is the problem. You do not have anyone to fix things for you and you have to learn all of a sudden to fix them by yourself. Nobody gave me instructions on what to do when you do not really get along with your host family. I thought that if that happened my organization would tell my host family what I was feeling and I would be able to move on. But of course, it was not that easy. After a month and a half living with the host family that chose me I felt that things were not working out. Every day I felt more distant to them, and I did not know what to do. When this happens, the best to do is communicate, to tell them what are you feeling and what you don’t like, but I did not know what to do. How do you tell somebody you barely know that you don’t like their life style? That you are having a hard time adjusting? And that you don’t like how they are? That went against all the manners that my parents raised me with. I could not do that. So I thought that my organization would help me solve the problem. That did not happen either. They did not give me any solution. I panicked during all those days, and I did not know what to do. I was really unhappy with what was going on, and also frustrated that things were not going as wonderfully as all that I was expecting and that I had been dreaming of. I realized I did not have my mum close to give me the comfort and to help me through. I realized that I had to start growing up without her by my side. She would not be there my whole life to solve my problems for me.
While all that was going on, in my high school I met the other exchange student. She was a really nice girl, and at the end she became one of my best friends that helped me throughout my experience. Her host family invited me out , and after telling them what was going on and how I was feeling they decided to help me, and they found me another host family. I ended up living my the other exchange student’s host-grand-parents. After a week waiting I finally was able to move to my new house, and no, it was not with the help of my organization. They did not even move a finger for me. It was with the help of who later became my host sister. She did everything that was in her hands to make me feel better.
It was really hard at first, but it was worth it. I ended up with a loving and caring host family that right now I would not know how to live without. Thanks to them I have been able to enjoy every minute of this experience. They have helped me grow and they gave me shelter when I needed it. And I can not be thankful enough for all that they have done. They have become my family.
I just want people to know that this can happen. And that it is nobody’s fault if you do not get along with your host family. Sometimes personalities are made to collide, and you can’t do anything about it. In these moments is when you can feel homesick, but no matter what, at the end everything is going to be alright. I am positive this taught me a lesson that I won’t ever forget.

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It is now that I am able to see the whole picture that I can proudly say that this year was by far one of the best of my life so far. I recommend this to anybody. Doing an exchange year you learn a lot of things that you would not be able to learn while you are sitting in a classroom in your home country. Plus you learn to communicate in a different language.

I have been through a lot of bad situations, but not everything about it is bad. Of course not. At the end, all the hard work and all the things that did not go as planned are paid off. You will go home with unbreakable friendships and memories hard to replace. And probably you find yourself debating because you no longer know where your home is since when you left your exchange country a part of your heart stayed there, but that is not always a bad thing.

Now I understand Andre Gide’s quote. I left sight of the shore to discover a new ocean. And that was the best thing I could have ever done. I can’t imagine my life without all the amazing people that I have met and all the amazing places I have visited. Now I can’t wait to know what destiny has planned for me.

 

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This is a guest post written by Monica Sanchez Hernandez, a 17 yeard old girl originally from Barcelona who spent her year in Freedom, Wisconsin, USA.