One month into my exchange… I have lost my sense in time. A day can feel like two weeks yet two weeks can feel a day. I have lost control over my emotions; one moment I am gleeful the next moment I am mournful. But one month into my exchange and I have already gained so much: a new family, a new school, new friends, weight, new adventures, new knowledge and a new life.
For starters, I gained a family that I adore. My first host family includes a dad, mom, brother, and a sister who is also on exchange. Every member of the family has made me feel very welcomed. It amazes me how in just one month I have a great amount of respect and appreciation towards my family. I am beyond grateful I am placed with such a wonderful family and I hope one day I will find a way to share my appreciation.
School has been the biggest cultural shock for me. I hardly remember my first day, but I remember feeling hopeless. Everything was completely different (of course I knew things would be different, but nothing hits you until you are actually in the situation). I originally come from a high school that has thousands of students and my school now has fewer people than my graduating class in Florida. So this school reminds me of a doll house.
As time went on, I adjusted to the school. Now, school isn't all that bad. There are 2 exchange students including me attending the school. Having another exchange student has its pros and cons. We are both in grade 5 (grade 11). It sometimes feels weird being in class with people who are 2-3 years younger than me; most of the time I forget how young they are. As a whole, people at school are kind and I hope to develop close relationships with students even if they are younger than me.
One of my favorite part of exchange is meeting other exchange students. We all are going through the same experience yet every person has their own unique experience. Knowing hundreds of students around the world can come together and form positive relationships brings me joy. There is always new people to meet and bond with at every Rotary function.
One of my worst part of exchange is gaining weight. As much as I hate the feeling of gaining weight, I cannot stop eating. I eat bread daily. My favorite snack is a waffle. When I bite into a waffle I can see all the clumps of sugar… it is delicious. The fries are best when it is homemade. It’s best to leave it at I eat well here in Belgium.
My exchange has already brought the most difficult challenge: learning a new language. There is nothing like being plopped in a country with a different language. I came knowing very little French and I still know very little French. A month ago I would have thought I would have a better grip of the language. I am learning but at a slow pace. There are days when I feel accomplished with the language and other days I feel like a complete failure. I often have to tell myself that everyone learns at a different pace because the other students in my club are more advanced than me.
Do I wish I knew more French before I arrived? Yes. But a little part of me doesn’t mind I came knowing very little because this has been the biggest challenge I have had to face ( If any future outbounds are reading this, do not think this is an excuse to go to your host country not knowing any language. Know as much as you possibly can!!).
Living outside the United States has brought awareness to myself. I can feel my tough shell slowly soften but also harden. I think about the personality I have always had in the states and realize how it is slowly transforming. Of course I am still me but being away from everything I have ever known brings a sense of consciousness. I have also become more open-eyed. There are things I never expected to be different which are completely different. For example, I asked my host brother for writing paper and he handed me graphing paper; I looked at him like he was crazy. On my first day of school I realized he wasn’t crazy because every single person uses graphing paper as if it were college ruled paper. So I suppose I am the crazy one.
When I think about my month in Belgium, I don’t think I have done much. But in reality, I have had many adventures. I visited the capital, Brussels. I went to my first festival. I explored Mons, the European capital of culture. I biked over 20 miles in the neighboring city Charleroi. I attempted to golf. I went kayaking and I ended up in the freezing water. Everyday is a new adventure.
Before I jumped on the plane to my new life, saying “I will be living in Europe for a year” was a big deal. Now that I am actually living in Europe, that’s exactly what it is: living. It is my life now, it is normal. But when I realize that this living isn't permanent, I take a moment, view my beautiful surroundings, smile and remember to make this a year to remember and make my life worth living for.
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