Becoming a part of a student exchange program can be a life-changing experience. There are a lot of emotions involved, most of which you end up feeling for the first time. While individual experiences might be different, here is a list of six exchange year emotions that every FLEX alumnus/alumna will be able to relate to.
Going on an exchange can be a stressful and anxious experience, especially for those who have never traveled away from family and home before. As the day of departure grows near, a million different thoughts swarm and nag you every waking moment. How will the new country be? What will the people be like? Will I like it there? Will I be able to adjust? This endless roller coaster of thoughts and emotions is exhausting and will give you jitters from the time you enroll in an exchange program all the way up to when the plane has landed in your host country.
Once the initial jitters subside, your adrenaline kicks in and you’re ready to plunge into the exchange program and soak up all that the host country has to offer. You’re trying to make new friends, adjusting with a brand-new host family, immersing yourself into a different environment and aiming at living your best life. The exchange program becomes an endless opportunity to have fun and grow. Not only are you exposed to a different culture, but you’re also faced with a unique set of life-altering experiences and adventures that will keep you engaged for the rest of your stay.
The first few weeks of the exchange were exhausting and exciting, you’ve been adjusting in school, making friends, immersing yourself into a foreign culture. Suddenly you’re hiding in the bathroom bawling your eyes out because your heart feels heavy and you realize just how much you miss home. Mom, dad, your cats, the park, your friends from school and even the strict teacher you despise. The life you left on hold behind creeps up on you when you least expect it and even though everything else is amazing, exhilarating and new, you can’t help but long for home.
The host country and community will not fail to surprise you. There are going to be so many things that are so different and yet the same that you may feel out of place at times. You learn first hand from your host family about how contrasting life is here than it was at home. The food, weather, dresses, houses, values, and festivals are all different. Not all of these differences are going to be pleasant at first, but as you let your guard down and open upyou learn to understand and accept things just as they are and gradually they become the new normal.
Finding Home Away from Home
So far you sailed smoothly through the exchange year. You call home and even though you miss things back there, you’ve grown comfortable living the life of an exchange student. You like your school and friends. The host family feels like an extension of your very own family and you no longer feel awkward and out of place. You’re learning something new everyday and life is getting better and better for you. You relate with the community around you much better and understand them. It isn’t overwhelming and frustrating anymore. It’s almost as if you’re already home.
The exchange year whizzed by and now you are days away from flying back home. But you found a home here, in a foreign country that gave you one of the best experiences and memories of your life. No matter how much you missed home before, you wouldn’t mind staying a bit longer. It’s almost as bad as when you left your country, but you might not get to come back here again, and it has crushed your heart to leave your new-found friends and family behind. You were welcomed and loved and will be terribly missed by all those whose lives you touched. Hopeful that you’ll be able to come back someday, you leave a piece of your heart behind as you fly back home.