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.
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.