To All Those People Telling Me To ‘Get Over´ My Exchange

There seems to be a large amount of people who don´t understand what an exchange is all about. People who have yet to discover there is a whole world out there to discover, and don´t understand why anyone would leave the comfort of their own home. Before you leave, they ask you why you would throw away a whole year to go on vacation. They ask you if you won´t miss your friends and family or why of all places you picked the country you picked. (Read; 10 things not to say to or ask exchange students).

Then you go on exchange, and it changed your life, maybe even more than you expected. But these people stayed in their own little bubble, and as much they didn´t understand you going on exchange in the first place, they really don´t get you going on and on about it.

It´s okay. In many ways I understand how hard it is to see what an exchange does to you if you haven´t done it yourself. As much as I thought I understood what it was like (which was a reason for me to go), I was completely wrong about almost everything.

It changed me in ways I couldn´t imagine, I learned things I never knew I never knew, so if you have never had an experience like it, I can understand why it might be hard for you to see how important this experience is and how, especially when you go as a teenager, this year has a huge influence on someone´s development.

But please, don´t ever ask me to ´get over´ my exchange. This is to everyone who has ever asked me why I was talking about my exchange. Again. To all the people wondering why it´s such a big deal. Why after all these years I am still talking about it, this is what I have to say.

One thing you have to understand is that an exchange is not a year in a life, it´s a life in a year. When you move abroad it´s not only a matter of getting to know new people and finding your way in a new city. It´s about finding a way in a city which street names are in a different language, sometimes in a different alphabet. It´s making new friends without even speaking the language.

It´s trying to understand how things work around you, what is culturally appropriate and what not. Every conversation, every supermarket visit is a challenge. Being abroad is dealing with the feeling of being a complete outsider, feeling isolated and alone. It´s getting to know yourself by questioning everything you have ever learned. It´s learning that there is not just one ´right´ way to do things and, most importantly, it´s about learning there is a whole world to explore.

When we talk with our friends and family, we usually try to bring something new to the conversation. Something funny, something interesting. And my whole exchange was funny, and interesting. Don´t get me wrong, I have funny anecdotes from my life at home as well, but in no way do they compare to the craziness of what happens when you are a 16-year-old teenager trying to find their way in a foreign country (I haven´t figured out yet why nobody has copyrighted this idea for a sitcom).

My exchange taught me that people are different, and yet at the same time people are the same. In every country I have been to I have seen people like you. People that love their home, their family and the comfort that comes with it. People that don´t feel the need to explore, to go outside of their comfort zone, and that is fine, but until you have seen what the rest of the world has to offer (and with ´seen´ I don´t mean just to look at foreign things, I mean to actually understand, accept and learn from them) there is no way I could ever explain why I can´t just get over my exchange.

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