We tend to look at the end of exchange as tragic and unavoidable, as a nostalgic closure to our lives abroad. However, it shouldn't feel like a burden as we are experiencing possibly the best moments of our youth. I intended to live each day to the fullest along with my friends and host families, to make every moment count and to leave off that plane without regrets: the could haves, would haves, should haves and what ifs. Fortunately, it was exactly what I achieved in my last days and I couldn’t have been happier.
Earlier in June, I had the opportunity to meet my parents over at Paris for a couple of days. It was an amazing feeling seeing them at the airport, hugging them once again and just spending time together. While they didn’t have the opportunity to see Lyon, I still got the chance to show them around Paris and all of its wonders: Montmartre, Saint Germain, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre just to name a few. I felt comfortable guiding them around the city and ordering at restaurants; not only was I confident in my language acquisition, but in the skills, I’ve learned throughout my journey. I was able to guide them through the metro easily during peak hours, warn them about pickpockets, handle an airline strike and many more. Something, I wouldn’t have been able to do a year ago in South Florida.
As for the rest of the month, I spent the majority of it running around Lyon. On a regular day, I could be found at the airport waving goodbyes, hanging out in Place Bellecour with friends, shopping for souvenirs in Vieux Lyon or finishing my bags at home(and more than once, doing all four). It was the most hectic month of my exchange; Inversely, it was the most heart-warming time for all. I found myself in a never-ending emotional roller coaster: joyful and happy, and equally melancholic. I enjoyed every walk past my favorite patisserie, every afternoon spent at the park, every morning spent chez Jocteur eating croissants and pain au chocolats, every day and night spent taking the bus. The thought of each moment possibly being the last one tortured me on my sleep and the question that occupied most of my time was: Where did time go? How fast does time fly?
All three of my host families, along with my closest friends from D1710 and school, accompanied me the morning of July 1st to the airport. The morning of my departure was rather dull. I was checking weight restrictions, passport and other documents needed, making phone calls and so on; but by the time I arrived at the airport, I found myself in a sea of tears. I was sobbing uncontrollably and in the limited time crunch, I waved not a goodbye but rather a “see you soon” to my friends and families; soon, let it be a year, two, ten or twenty but anytime soon. I felt heartbroken at first, but as time cleared my head I felt lucky, so lucky to be loved by those people present throughout my exchange. I felt extremely grateful for the moments I shared along with them and I couldn’t have imagined spending the past ten months, 301 days, along with anyone else.
My transition back home to South Florida has been another roller coaster on its own. I’ve been home for two weeks and while adjusting back to speaking another language has not been a struggle, there are certainly some. I am learning once again my family’s routine and trying to adopt my own. I didn’t know for the first week where something as simple as coffee or sugar was in my kitchen. I am also preparing for a new stage in my life as I am moving out, so I found myself back home unpacking only to pack once again for my first semester in college. Needless to say, not all is as complicated as it seems. I’ve also had the joy of going to the beach once again, having arepas and empanadas, reuniting with friends and family and so on. Perhaps the most difficult part of moving back home is letting go of exchange, letting go of the life I created in one year. There are mornings when I wake up only to find my phone buzzing with messages asking to meet by Hôtel de Ville or to grab a snack by Cordeliers, and I couldn’t help but wonder how would my day differ if I was in France.
In the midst of this exciting year, I had the opportunity to grow as an individual. Well, how do ten months abroad differ from ten months at home? I guess it has to do with a variety of factors. For starters, a new location that brings the best of my curiosity that allowed me to explore freely my surroundings; it helped me ask questions as to where and why, to bring my inner philosopher and explore more. Another reason could simply be the fact that I spent the past ten months with other teens, who were as highly motivated and equally as curious through exchange. While there are millions of reasons as such, the most significant to this growth has been a new perspective and attitude that have led to a better experience. As exchange students, we go through similar experiences: rotating host families, traveling alone, experiencing the holidays far from our loved ones and so on; but what truly differs us from each other is the point of view that each one embraces. Some may see a birthday alone as saddening and tragic while others look at it as joyous to celebrate another turn around the sun.
To the future outbound, enjoy every second of your exchange. Please value every lesson learned, every laugh and tear shred, every spelling error, and every compliment. Don’t forget that it’s normal to make mistakes and that each one only helps you become stronger. Always remember that you are only once on exchange: you will only be at this gorgeous country with your classmates and friends, living with your host families once and you will cherish this moment for the rest of your life. Lastly, be thankful to those who made this experience truly one of a kind: host families, teachers, Rotarians, volunteers and any other that made your experience valuable. A simple “thank you” can go a long way and it takes two seconds to express your gratitude!
I want to thank my sponsor district 6990, as well as my host district 1710; the club of Hallandale Beach-Aventura for sponsoring this dream of mine and the club of Lyon Croix-Rousse for hosting me in France. Most importantly, I want to thank all of my families who supported me on each step of the way. It has been the most amazing year of my teens and I am truly thankful for the past months.
As Stein once said “: America is my country, and Lyon is my hometown.” Or something like that.
Bisous et merci encore pour ses dix mois plein de joie et du bonheur
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