Haley, outbound to Poland

I’m drinking coffee in bed at nine PM on a Friday and nothing makes sense.
I’m staring at the glow of my laptop that, for some reason, has a broken webcam, which makes skype sessions difficult, and when you’re an exchange student skype sessions become very important and honestly I have no clue why the webcam is broken because I left my laptop at home and home is Poland now and I left my laptop at home when I went to Germany for a week and when I came back it didn’t work and nothing makes sense.
I only have two months left on exchange, fifty-two days exactly according to the counter on my phone, and in fifty-two days I go home to Florida from my home in Poland.

I must admit, I’m not entirely sure who I am anymore.
In the past eight months I’ve been to eight countries, gained six kilos, lost my tan, lost my way, gotten on the wrong bus and the wrong tram, been on the right tram without a ticket, begged my way out of a ticket and had it work, tried to beg my way out of a ticket and failed (bye bye, sixty euro), I’ve made friends at my school who I missed when I was with my friends from Rotary, I’ve met people from countries I’ve never been to. I’ve had political discussions with people who speak very broken English, I’ve made horrific grammatical mistakes in English myself. I’ve seen places I never thought I would see, I’ve seen wonders I never knew existed. I’ve learned a language, poorly and incorrectly and not fluently, I’ve made a family.

I made a life.

I made a life, and then, I saw the ocean in Italy, and I sobbed, because I felt like I was home. Rotary forbid us from going in the water past our knees, and maybe I broke that rule just a little bit, but I couldn’t help it, and swimming in the ocean was the only reason I’ve ever been in trouble on my exchange. I saw the ocean in Italy, and memory hit me like a punch to the gut, and in that moment I realized that Florida was, is, and will probably always be a bigger part of me then I can comprehend. The beach makes me think of my uncle’s house and the fourth of July, it makes me think of road trips with friends crammed in the car, it makes me think of the conversations that led me to start this crazy exchange year in the first place. The beach makes me think of family vacations, of sand burning my feet and overripe watermelon, fiery sunsets and falling off surfboards. All these things are Florida things, my family and my loved ones, they’re boldly and undeniably Florida. The beach is really where I’m happiest, and I never even knew how much I had missed it until I saw the shore from our little hotel window.

When I interviewed for this program I was asked where I wanted to go. “Send me anywhere”, I said, and this is part of the reason I believe I was chosen – because of my supposed openness and desire to see the world. Here’s the thing though, it wasn’t that I wanted to see the world so much as I felt trapped. I wanted more than anything to GO, to get out of Tallahassee. 

Obviously, I was successful. I left.
I won’t be returning the same.

I’m a calmer, happier person now, I’m more confident in my own skin and my own abilities. I have a deeper respect for where I grew up and the people who raised me – and I love them more, now that I can step back and see everything from a more objective vantage point. Life was never supposed to be as hard as I made it. I’m less dramatic now, I’m braver. I’ve shed prejudices I didn’t realize I had and learned to be a better friend. I genuinely want to see the world – there are whole continents I’ve never been too, languages I’ve never heard spoken in person. From Thailand to Brazil, Australia to Argentina to Antarctica and back again, in my soul I want to see it all.

A few days ago, I felt my old self creep back into my new skin, when some financial aid paperwork went astray. I slipped back into my old panic, my brain going a million miles an hour, I thought “This is all my fault I was too stupid I can’t believe I made that mistake I can’t believe my mom made that mistake I’m not going to get any aid I’m going to have to drop out I’m going to have to go to community college and I can’t handle this why is everything so awful what do I do they’re gonna take my scholarship away and I need that scholarship it’s huge without it I’m going to have to drop out ”, in circles for an hour and a half before I managed to call a friend and ask for help. “Calm down”, he said, reminding me to breathe. “Just try to have a little more faith in humans”. Later, the problem was resolved quickly and easily.

Thank you, JP. You were right, always are.
Just try to have a little more faith in humans. Next time I’m stressed, next time I feel the panic of life get to me again, I’m going to remember all the happy memories I’ve had, and breathe, and have faith. I think we should all try to do something similar.

Breathe. Have faith. Smile.

Some rules are worth breaking, so go run into the ocean while you still have time.

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