At six o’clock my alarm calls me away from my Spanish-speaking mother. I open my heavy eyes in the shadow of the Washington Monument, and I remember I am 3,879 miles away from my mother’s smile, across the vast Atlantic Ocean.
I get ready and I stick my pocket dictionary in my backpack, starting another day of “my life in a year”. In any case, let us be honest: being an exchange student is not easy. It is not easy to say that first “hello” stepping off the plane, as it is not easy to say that “goodbye” when you are leaving.
After that first comforting phone call on new soil, the inevitable silent tear will fall. But that is the point; to let that tear fall is, in fact, something worth doing. That tear is what waters the person, the spirit; it is what will make you grow and what makes an exchange year especially valuable and unique. It hurts when it begins and when it ends, but it is still worth it. It is difficult to really and deeply connect with a person in an exchange year. Even though a year might seem a lot of time, it goes fast, and sometimes it feels like it is not enough time to really get to know someone. Nevertheless, every person you meet in your exchange student will leave a mark in you. At the beginning, it is difficult to come face to face with the American neighbours, and we might just talk about very transcendental topics as an entertainment, but then it gets deeper. Even though there was a big distance between who I now consider “my American friend”, there is a personal experience between us, there is union. Every of those simple and also those profound and complex conversations will change a part of you, and you will feel sad when you leave.
An exchange year also inspires and promotes wanderlust. I left something of myself in every single place I visited in the States. I exchanged a part of me with something of those new places, or also people. A friendly gesture makes foreigners less foreign, since we have a common ground: we are persons. Simple, pure and beautiful humanity is what shows us that all those strangers walking in the packed streets of New York City share the same journey called “life”. I long-established that the American culture is not just about hot dogs, baseball games and greasy hamburgers, but a society formed with strong values and an astounding cultural diversity, which is exceptionally enriching for every person, but especially for any young exchange student. Travelling in America has expanded my mind; for the reason that I got rid of my own judgements and own sensitivity of what is beautiful or ugly, because this country taught me that every place and every person is simply “different”. I suspended my expectations and I enjoyed every corner that I discovered here.
The pictures of beautiful beaches in Florida, crowded streets in New York City, gorgeous Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC …came alive in front of my eyes; they became a small part of me and I found some freedom in all that… Inf all the places where I left my footprint or I captured a moment in a picture, I understood better and better that, underneath the clothing style, the food, the beliefs or the culture, we are similar. For this reason, I believe that exchange students become, somehow, little “peace-makers”. Every person should have the opportunity to experience these special emotions, because it would teach more tolerance to our society. As an exchange student we are not only practicing a language, but also constantly learning, experiencing this world from different perspectives, rediscovering feelings and even aspects of our own personality, meeting new people and sharing culture in very special ways… Exchange students grow at a personal level during the experience because we learn what it is to feel, at least in occasions, like a stranger, like a guest in a very unfamiliar house; but we also learn that this concrete feeling is what will lead us to a deeper understanding of the world we live in. It is about self-development by experiencing the unknown and also appreciation of the small things in life.
I have laughed, I have felt overwhelmed, astonished, surprised, amazed. I have learned and I have felt challenged; but, above all, my exchange year has given me a significant lesson about courage and about the world we live in that, for sure, has changed me forever.
Año Académico 2015-2016 en Front Royal, Virginia.