What is student exchange? This question has many different meanings and answers for our students and host families. Each has something special to themselves that they take away from the experience.
One of our students sent us the below blog post about what exchange has meant to her. Anni is from Germany and has been living with the Bell family since the beginning of 2014. In her blog post, Anni shares many of the aspects of exchange that are common among many students and host families: successes and frustrations, happiness and confusion. As Anni writes, “It is not a year in your life! No, it is a life in a year.”
What is exchange?
Exchange is change: Rapid, brutal, beautiful, hurtful, colorful, amazing, unexpected, overwhelming and most of all a constant change. Change in yourself, lifestyle, country, food, language, friends, parents, school, houses, simply everything.
Exchange is going from thinking: you know who you are, to having no idea who you are.
Exchange is being someone new but not entirely new. You are still the person you were before but you jumped into the ice cold lake, having no idea what to expect. You are growing up and becoming more independent and outgoing. But it is not a bad thing for you; you are feeling older and more responsible for a lot of things you and other people are doing.
Exchange is being on your own; far away from home, far away from your family and your confidence zone. No one you really know. No one you can talk to. But soon you will find out that it changes. You can actually do it. Being and living without your family for 10 months. You learned so much. How to handle certain things and/or how to deal with your problems.
Exchange is learning to trust. Learning to trust people, who, at first, are only names on a piece of paper, trusting that they want the best for you, trusting them that they care. Trusting yourself that you have the strength to endure a year on your own, endure a year of being apart from everything that mattered to you before. Trust that you will have friends. Trust that everything is going to be alright. And it is seeing this trust being justified.
Exchange is thinking. Thinking about everything, all day, every day. Thinking about those strange costumes, the strange food, the strange language. About why you are where you are and not back home. About how your family and friends are dealing with you being away for so long. About how it is going to be like once you come back home. How your friends are going to react. About how stupid this whole time-zone thing is.
Thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong. About how stupid or rude you just were to someone without meaning to be. About the point of being an exchange student. About the sense of life. About who you want to be, what you want to do. And about the next US History Test, even though you’re grades don’t really count.
Exchange is people. Those incredibly strange people, who look at you like you are an alien. Those people who are too afraid to talk to you. And those people who actually talk to you. Those people who know your name, even though you have never met them. Those people who talk about you behind your back, those people who make fun of you and your country. Those people who don’t understand why you are there, why you are without your family and why you are who you are. And those people who invite you to their homes. Who are keeping you save. Who became your new friends.
Exchange is music. New music, weird music, cool music, music you will remember all your life as the soundtrack of your exchange. Music that will make you cry because all those lyrics express exactly how you feel, so far away. Music that will make you feel like you could take on the whole world. And it is music you make. With the most amazing musicians you’ve ever met.
Exchange is sport. It is being a part of the team. Practicing every day until you are ready to fall asleep but still giving 100%. It is trying something new. It is being successful. Sticking to your old sport and falling in love again. It is exactly what you wanted.
Exchange is uncomfortable. It is feeling out of place, like a fifth wheel. It is talking to people you don’t like. It is trying to be nice all the time. It is homesickness, it is awkward silence and its feeling guilty because you didn’t talk to someone at home. Or it is feeling guilty because you are missing something because you were talking on Skype.
Exchange is great. It is feeling the connection between you and your host parents. It is being a part of a new family. It is knowing in which cupboard the peanut butter is. It is meeting people from all over the world. It is having fun. It is cooking food from your home country and not messing it up. It is sharing your story and presenting your country. It is seeing beautiful new landscapes. It is the best experience in your life. It is learning to appreciate some things differently.
Exchange is falling in love with your new (second) life. With all the people you have met: your host family, your friends, your teachers and the country, pretty much everything.
Exchange is realizing that you are the only one who decides how good or bad your day is going to be. Everybody has a bad day but you can decide how bad it is. Think about how much longer you have and then decide if it is worth to throw the day away.
Exchange is frustrating. Life is not perfect and you will notice it. You probably won’t find a month without making a decision you don’t like. You think about ‘why am I here? I just want to go home.’ But that is okay, it is normal, it is a part of your experience.
Exchange is (probably) the best year of your life so far. It is so much new stuff. Something you never dreamed off. Something you have never seen and/or done.
Exchange is enjoying the short time you have. Making the best out of it; it will never be the same because people are constantly changing. Enjoying every month, every week, every day, every hour, every minute, every second; Simply everything.
Exchange is realizing that you always have to leave one of your two lives behind.
Exchange is crying without a reason and laughing at the same time.
Exchange is so hard to define.
It is something that nobody can take away from you. Something that no one will ever truly understand. Something that you can’t just show it in pictures. Something that you have to live. An experience that is unbelievable.
Exchange is something you will never forget, something that will always be a part of you and your life.
Exchange is everything. It is not a year in your life! No, it is a life in a year. It is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been through it!