June 2, 2012

International Love

So yes, I am still alive. My lack of blogs is mainly due to procrastination and the overflow of things that I have to say. There's way too much to spill out all in one blog. I'm sorry for those who have been keeping track of this humble blog of an exchange student. Where to start? Well. I think I'll just try to sort through my jumbled box of tucked-away thoughts. I feel like all my adventures and journeying can be described by pictures, but feelings can only be described by words– and even then, it's not enough to capture the emotions into concrete reality.

Honestly the definition of an "exchange student" has really changed for me. These last two months have been the best of my life. I feel like the last seven/eight months before of falling, discovering, learning, laughing, crying, dreaming, and exploring has built me up into a better person– someone more in control of her life. And not only were these last months absolutely explosively incredibly fun, but they were also eye-opening.

There were two things that really highlighted this year. I call the first event "The massive Rotary International Youth Exchange Student Get-Together Party of the Year." It was amazing. It was ridiculous how much fun I had. Imagine this: 430 exchange students of 31 different nationalities coming together under the title of "Exchange Students of the Entire World" for a long weekend. Imagine this taking place in the beautiful city of Annecy. Imagine the mixture of English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and tons of other languages being spoken with every beautiful unique accent in the world. Imagine making friends from all over the planet from Australia to Japan to Brazil. Imagine having the most patriotic moments of your life, waving your country's flag over your head. Imagine the international love in our exchange student family. Imagine that.

Our family.
International Love. 31 nationalities.
So yeah. Annecy was crazy. It all started with "Where are you from?" And then our Rotary jackets got heavier with new pins. We all exchanged our 400 cards with our home addresses, phone numbers, and emails written on it, while we were all practically strangers. So many names... so many flags... so many languages... I remember my jaw dropping when I entered the room that merged together all 430 of us crazy foreigners. It's just amazing how easily we all get along. I met one of my best friends there. She's an Aussie. It's crazy and yet very possible to meet and call someone your best friend after only knowing them for a couple days. Anything is possible on exchange, and yet... it's you who has to make it possible.

The second highlight was my bus trip around Europe. That might have very well been the best thing that's ever happened to me. The best 12 days of my time. All I know is that I will never ever forget the places we visited, the people I met, the experiences I had, and so much more. In 12 days we visited 6 countries: Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, ITALY, Switzerland, and more of France. It was absolutely exhausting but I met some of the most amazing people from all over the world and visited some of the most beautiful cities. It was mostly the friendships that made this trip so unforgettable. Us exchange students share something special that doesn't compare to any other kind of friendship. It's the kind of friendship that is so strong and powerful, no matter the language, no matter the nationality, no matter the distance– it lasts. We exchange students are a family. We are each others' best friends, even if we only see each other a couple times during the year. We know what it's like to live abroad and be far away from everything. We know what it's like to be scared and lost and lonely. We've all had the times of our lives and we've all lived the miseries from our nightmares. Just being around each other feels surreal, something special and different. In between our two lives of home and in France, there is the family of exchange students that takes up most of the love that we have for the world. We learn from each other. We laugh with each other. We have fun with each other. We do stupid stuff with each other. We will never forget each other. At the end of the bus trip, everyone cried. I said to myself that I wouldn't, but I did. It was probably the hardest that I cried since I left America. After nine months away from everything that I knew, the most of my tears fell for people that I met over two weeks... that I wouldn't be sure if I would ever see again. It hurt so bad to say goodbye. We say we will all see each other again. We say we will never forget. We say we will stay in touch. But those words were just mixed in with the tears that kept falling. It's hard to say the truth. No one wanted to hear it, but we all knew it. We all pretended that our goodbyes meant "See you soon". But the truth was there. It was "Goodbye, thank you for the time of my life."

On the beach of Italy
 I miss you all.

This bus trip showed me a glimpse of how hard it's going to be returning to America. Those 12 days will always have a special place in my heart, but this year has taken up more than just my heart. It's impacted everything in my life, everything that makes me who I am. Going back to my life before will be like putting a circle into a square. It just won't fit right. It'll be hard, but I knew this had to come. I just didn't realize how much a year could change me.

Change comes in many different ways. In different forms. In different moods. In different sizes. It comes to you by people, by places, by words, by tears, by scars, by laughter, by dreams. I am different now. I guess between America and France, change somehow slipped in during the nine months of distance. There's nothing specific that has changed me. It's like a subtle wave. Sometimes I knew it was going over me, other times it came in rapid tides, and sometimes I didn't notice at all. But I would wake up feeling different. I keep learning things about myself. I keep discovering. Sometimes I don't like what I find and sometimes I never want to go back to how it was before. I can't figure out what it is exactly. But going on an exchange pushes you to a limit, it carves your soul out, it rips apart your knowledge, then builds you up again from scratch leaving only your roots. I spent this time discovering those roots– those roots that make me who I really am. Those roots that will carry me along in the future. And then I spent this time letting the pieces of myself come together. I can't say that I found myself. Whatever that really means. I think it's impossible to fully discover one's self when there is still so much to discover in the world. The world has changed me. It will continue to change me. I'm not stopping my adventures and traveling and exploring after this year. Traveling is an addiction. Once you start, you can't go back. It's a chance to rip yourself away from comfort and familiarity and toss yourself into a horrifyingly beautiful, ugly, wonderful, catastrophic, utopia world. It's a chance to create your own path. It's a chance to mess up and learn to laugh at yourself. It's a chance to open your eyes to everything hidden behind distance. Distance is beautiful and cruel. It brings together the most wonderful things and then destroys it again and again. There's always a fight against distance, and then a joy to discover it again. I love the idea of getting to the other side of distance. I love being there. Like the other side of the rainbow. You find wonders and treasures beyond words... and then you have to say goodbye to it all when the rain comes– like when the goodbye makes the tears fall.

It's depressing, isn't it?

It's hard for others to really understand. It's impossible. Some things you just can't relate to and understand if you haven't lived it. If you haven't gone through the turmoil of emotions and change living abroad, you can't nod your head and say "Yeah I know what you mean." You have to live it to know it.

I love this quote:

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." 

Two of my best friends that I will love forever <3

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