Home doesn’t have just one name: lessons from a youth exchange

Rotary Youth Exchange students from several countries in Paris.

Rotary Youth Exchange students from several countries in Paris.

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.

10 thoughts on “Home doesn’t have just one name: lessons from a youth exchange

  1. Well put Elizabeth. Home is where we find our heart and allow ourselves to be refreshed, but it doesn’t have to be in one city or town or country. I too see the world as an amazing place and its people as very wonderful. There is beauty everywhere if we look for it, and a smile and acceptance of the variety of cultures you experience in traveling opens you up to even richer moments! Thanks for sharing. I’m smiling too.


  2. 10 years ago I learned I’d be spending my Rotary Youth Exchange in Northern France. Two months ago I packed my bags, sold my furniture and filled out some grueling paperwork (for my cat…I didn’t need any for myself!) and am now living in a bigger Northern France town…got a job 2 weeks ago!

    It’s actually crazy how a year abroad changes everything.


  3. Out of curiosity, where did you find that picture? I’m in it! It’s of me and my fellow inbounds from District 1510, France, on our Rotary weekend in Paris. We were on exchange in 2012-2013. It made me smile to see it here, and it’s quite flattering to be featured. Great writing!


  4. Very good to read your report, Elizabeth. Now you know that Rotarians do things that may change people’s life. Have a wonderful and great time at this last part of your exchange year in France! La belle France!!! Then, sometime in the future, please join Rotary to help youngsters to become exchange students and citizens of the world – a giant step to build Peace. I did it.


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  6. Love this article. Thank you for sharing…..and funny thing is that I am age 46, and can look back 30 years to the first time I met my overseas club/family on my Rotary Youth Exchange year. And in 2 weeks from now I will be taking my 2 boys back to the same town for a summer of fun, and to spend some quality time in my other ‘home’ with my other family. This is not my first return visit in 30 years and it definitely will not be the last. My Rotary Youth Exchange year shaped me beyond my wildest imagination and opened up a world of adventure and optimism.


  7. Loved your review and have forwarded your article to our Exchange Student who has expressed similar thoughts. Wishing you well and keep up the spirit and thoughts that changed your life.


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  9. Pingback: Home doesn’t have just one name: lessons from a youth exchange | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

  10. 23 years after my exchange, I can point to my year as the year that started adventures. I hope you are able to do the same! Keep your global view, and never stop learning about the world around you. Good luck in your future endeavors!


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