Kate, Outbound to Mexico

December 26, 2017

Congratulations to the next class of Rotary Youth Exchange future outbound candidates for the 2018-19 year! I remember a year ago myself being so full of excitement and anticipation. Take this time, excitement, and energy before exchange to STUDY YOUR LANGUAGE. You will hear it over and over and over again, but you will hear it from me too. In the months between your selection and your departure, it is easy to think “I will have time to study my language later.” Or “It doesn’t matter. I am going to learn it on exchange anyways.” But every little bit counts to make your exchange more meaningful, especially in the beginning. No former exchange student will tell you that they studied a language too much, and most of them probably regret not learning as much as they could of the language before their exchange. Language skills leads to trust with your host family, more freedom, friendships at school, an easier integration into your host community, and so much more. Language is the key to unlocking the true potential of your exchange. Enjoy your first Outbound Training weekend. It is a lot of information, but trust me, RYE Florida has excellent training that you may not fully appreciate until you are in your host country.

I have now been on my Rotary Youth Exchange for over 4.5 months, and two weeks ago, I just finished my first semester of school. So after catching up on some much-needed sleep and celebrating Christmas, I have had some time to reflect about my first half of exchange and what I have learned.

On exchange, I am definitely learning how to be more flexible and to trust that things will work out. My natural instinct is to plan and anticipate how things will go. In a culture when everything happens “ahorita” (English approximations: who knows when, whenever, or in a little bit), my tendencies to thoroughly plan have been forced to relax a little bit. “Plans” constantly change at the last minute, or sometimes the plan never existed at all. I usually feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants, which has really stretched my limits, forced me to adapt, and developed some flexibility. Although I have adapted to the Mexican culture and lifestyle, I still think I am a planner at heart though.

I am learning how to stand up for myself in a respectful non-confrontational way. By nature, I try to avoid any sort of conversations that might cause personal conflict (I do love debating though). But, I have learned that sometimes these uncomfortable conversations are necessary in order to take care of my needs and protect myself. I have realized that there is a difference between being a complainer and healthily looking out for myself. It is not always easy, especially with the people we know and love, but I am so glad I have talked with my host family about certain things that have bothered me. We just talked it out and came to an agreement, and I am learning that it is not as scary as I once thought. The reality is that addressing things that affect us is a life skill because in order to truly have close relationships, I need to have the courage and integrity to communicate my feelings.

One of the things I am learning on exchange is to just go for it, try new things, and be adventurous. My rule with new food is that I need to try at least one bite. I don’t always like it (like the time I tried taco de sesos or a cow brain taco), but I don’t know until I try, and I have found some new favorite foods here in México. In addition to trying new foods, I have also tried new activities like theater. On exchange, in my second language, I acted for the first time in the play at school for literature class (Bodas de Sangre by Federico García Lorca or Blood Weddings). Originally, I was working on adapting the original text, and then later, I became an actor. I really enjoyed the challenge of learning all my many, many lines and then trying to make them sound natural instead of recited. We rehearsed a lot, and it was amazing to see our progress from beginning (stumbling through the book and losing our place all the time) to the end (confidently and from memory). Sure, I messed up the pronunciation occasionally and was far from perfect, but I am so glad that I tried something new and went outside my comfort zone.

On my exchange, I am not just getting to know México, this beautifully chaotic culture, and some amazing people; I am discovering a lot about myself too. One of the things I selfishly wanted from my exchange was the opportunity for me to learn who I truly am and what I believe in and value. Not just because this is how my parents are, not just because this is how the American culture is, not just because this is how my life is. Because on exchange, all that changes. I live in a completely different family and culture with a different routine, so I am just left with me. Sure, I am growing; my view on the world is expanding, and I have adapted to another way of life. But, my core self is almost the same here in Puebla as it was there in Atlanta. I am still nerdy, sarcastic, and crazy (in a good way*). I still love to learn and probably study too much. I still would call myself an idealistic realist. I still don’t emphasize appearances, and I still value meaningful relationships with real people and prioritize my integrity.

I am learning how to live knowing each day is limited. Exchange is a normal life, but it is a unique life that I probably won’t experience again. When I boarded that plane in Atlanta, I put the life I had built there in the United States on pause for a year, but I will resume that life after exchange. But when I leave Puebla, I probably won’t be able to come back to my life here (unless I move back here, something that I would honestly consider). Yes, I will visit and keep in touch and remember, but that is not the same. And with every day that passes, that is one less day I have left of this beautifully real, normal, and yet extraordinary life with the people here that I love. When I first arrived, 11 months seemed like forever away, but now at almost the halfway point, I realize how little time 11 months is in a lifetime. I live painfully aware that every moment, every day, every season, and every life comes to an end and that our precious time is so very limited. I live knowing that it does matter how I spend my time and that I don’t want to have any regrets. So I live with a sense of urgency, a sense of intentionality, a sense of purpose. This doesn’t mean I live recklessly or go sky-diving, but I try, in my everyday life, to see past myself and to look for ways to build other people up, to remind them they matter. Because I firmly believe that in order to truly make a difference, I need invest in other people and in meaningful relationships. And this doesn’t end with exchange. I want to live this way, with purpose, for the rest of my life.

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