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)

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