During 8th grade I was informed about Rotary Youth Exchange and the chance to spend my junior year abroad. The second I heard about it I was ready to pack my bags and hop on the next flight to anywhere. I had only been to four states. I grew up in a small town in Montana, then moved to an even smaller town in Oregon. Moving away from everything I had ever known, to something completely different, was hard but one of the best experiences. I have always known that traveling is something I’ve always wanted to do, so when the chance came to spend an entire year traveling and seeing a whole new part of the world, of course I would take advantage of that opportunity. Rotary does three different training sessions. One, the country fair where I got to explore cultures and meet the rest of the people in my shoes and the students that are living their exchange year here in the United States. The second, the ski trip, where I found out what country I was going to. And the last one, District conference where I get to just spend time with the exchange students and meet Rotarians. At all of these orientations I got tons and tons of information and rules jammed into the 3 to 5 days long trip.
During the duration of the trips, I spent just about every waking minute with exchange students. People who were in my shoes and understood my wanderlust, the emotions and stress. Between every orientation or get together with the other exchange students, there was constant stress. With taking double classes and maintaining good grades, working two jobs, learning a new language and keeping myself mentally and physically healthy. But the minute I hug just one other exchange student it was like a giant weight lifted of my shoulders and a huge smile on my face and not a single care in the world. And every time I see them, I get the same incredibly blissful feeling, that I know everything is going to be okay. There is an indescribable feeling of knowing there are so many people that know exactly how you feel. When we are together as a group, we don’t have to be doing anything special, just sitting together and talking, is always a stress reliever. I spend a lot of time with the lively latin exchange students, so we dance, laugh and there is constant affection. I am always able to be completely myself when I’m with them. They are my people.
The exchange students always give me a sense of home. There is something that is hard to how being able to relate with someone so closely that makes it seem as if the whole world is no longer crashing down on you. They are always able to make me smile, even if everything is falling apart. We can understand each other so deeply and connect and reconnect all over again when we reunite, and that is an experience most don’t find very often; so it held close to my heart. As someone who has a hard time connecting with people and finding someone that can relate to me, it’s incredibly special that I have a large group of people, that can understand me is an indescribable feeling. I’m never sad or unhappy with them and the feeling of relief that I experience with a single hug from just one exchange student, is where I find my serenity.
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