Elizabeth, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from District 6080 (Missouri, USA) to France
I used to think that the sky only stretched on for as far as I could see, and then where my vision became blurred, the world ceased to exist.
I used to think that happiness came from surrounding myself with things that brought me comfort. I used to think the best friends I would ever have were the ones I’d known forever. I used to think that in order to call someone family meant they had to be related by blood. And I used to think that home only had one name.
But that was before I packed my faith into a suitcase, and my fear into a carry-on, and boarded a plane with no known destination. People had told me time and time again that my year abroad would be the best of my life. That it would change the way I saw everything. “Even 30 years from now,” they told me, “You will look back and realize nothing in your life will ever be as much fun.”
Lifetime of adventure
Yes, my year abroad has been the best year of my life. And yes, my year abroad has changed everything for me. But as for looking back at age 47 on my year, I hope that I will see my exchange as the year that started a lifetime of adventure.
Before, if you had asked me what my future would consist of, I would have described a “super cool senior year” filled with football games and prom pictures, then heading off to college at Missouri University to major in something like business. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.
But now, my future is more beautifully unknown than I had ever hoped. Every day, my eyes open to something new. And every day, I see opportunities by the hundreds right in front of me. I plan on pushing through my senior year with a job on the side, so I can start saving up to see the world. I want to travel and help people and chase every dream – all inspired by my year abroad. I want to learn every minute of every day about places and people and traditions that I would have never believed existed.
Far away lands
Studying abroad has changed everything about the person I am. I no longer think solely of the objects and people and places surrounding me. Instead, my mind often wanders to far away lands where I am looking at things and meeting people unlike anyone or anything I’ve seen before. I don’t fear change, and I don’t fear the disruption it often brings. Instead, I wonder what little things I could change in hopes of bringing on disruption.
Before, I looked at the world as if it owed something to me. Now I see how horribly selfish that was. I am no longer the receiver, but the giver. The world owes me nothing, but I, I owe it everything. Its beauty and life amazes me every minute of the day; every day of the week; every week of the year. I’ve only been abroad for eight months and fourteen days, but I feel I’ve lived a lifetime. Sometimes I’m afraid to go home. Afraid all the fun and adventure of this year will fly back with the plane.
But then I remind myself, that I am not the same person as when I left. Because now I know that the sky stretches on for thousands of miles in every direction, even where I cease to see it. I know that happiness does come from things that bring you comfort, but that comfort is offered in more ways than one. I know the best friends I’ll ever have may very well be the ones I haven’t met yet, and that family can mean more than similar genetic makeup. Home doesn’t have just one name, it has many.