AYP student essay – life lessons learned from being an exchange student

By CHI AYP student Tine from Germany

“Being an exchange student is awesome.”

“I had the best year of my life.”

“I learned so much about myself.”

That is what people told me about a year ago. These were people who had already been abroad. They told me about how wonderful it was, and how the exchange experiences have changed them forever. I was truly inspired by their energy, and the passion they had, and I was so curious about how my year abroad would teach me my “life lesson”.

First of all I had to wait until mid-July to be told that they had finally found a family for me, in Auburn, California. I did not choose a certain state, because I wanted to leave the search as open as possible. I thought that “my perfect family” could be all over America, and America is pretty big. My family back in Germany was very happy for me that my dream was finally coming true, because they knew how much I wanted this, and how much effort I had put into all the applications. The road until then was like a rollercoaster for me.

My dream to go to America began about four years ago. My parents knew that they could never afford a year abroad, so I tried to work, and save the money, but it was impossible. I tried scholarships, but it did not work out. I finally told myself that it was not meant to be, and that there were other opportunities to go abroad, and I felt good about it. Last year in August, my mom and I went to Hamburg to visit her aunt, because they had not seen each other in eight years. I was very excited, because my mom’s aunt was a world traveler. She has been to the craziest places on earth, and was full of memories, and exciting stories. Unfortunately we did not meet my mom’s uncle, because he had to leave Hamburg early to go back to work in Switzerland. But he called, and that call changed my life. My mom’s uncle, Harald, loves America, and so does my mom’s aunt. My mom told him that I would love to go there to school for a year, and he said he was going to pay for me. He thinks it is a great thing to do, and he would do anything to support me.

And now here I am. I have the perfect family, I live in a cute town, and I love going to school. I already have found a lot of friends, and I’m coming to believe that in a couple of months I will be the exchange student telling everybody how my exchange year changed my life. Honestly, I already feel that way.

However, being an exchange student is not always easy. I had a good start in school, my classes were just right for me, and my teachers were super friendly. However there were times when I felt really lonely. Even though I had met a lot of people and I felt I knew more people than the other exchange students, I felt lonely sometimes. This is because friendships grow. They do not come from nowhere, they need time. Time to trust, to respect, to like, and to have fun with each other. I walked to classes alone sometimes; I was not used to it. I tried to connect with people, but sometimes I was tired of trying. I do not blame the people for not talking to me; they just did not know what they should talk about with me. Sometimes I would get mad, because I thought that talking to a stranger must be the easiest thing on earth; you can ask everything: How it is like being in America, why I am here, where I am from, how old I am. And again, I was not used to being alone. I liked being at home, though. My family was awesome from the first minute.

However, I probably learned my best “life lesson”, because I did not have anybody to talk to during the first few weeks. I developed my own strategy. Every night before I would go to bed, I would think about the nice things that happened to me that day. I did this for over two months. During that time I learned to value the little things in life, such as a smile, a hug, a good conversation, a friend who helped me with homework, a good grade on my homework, somebody who told me “good job, Germany” ( that is my nickname), a plan for lunch, taking my dog out for a walk, getting to know somebody new, the sun, watering the garden, and a lot of other, little things. And I realized that this was the key to my happiness. Every night, I would fall asleep with a good thought, and I would wake up with a positive start in the day. This also made me realize that every experience, positive or negative brings you one step forward. There are no steps back. You learn from your mistakes, and that is worth more than doing everything the right way.

“Life is a challenge, meet it.” (Mother Teresa).

I am so truly thankful for this experience; it has changed me forever. Appreciate life, embrace what you have, and accept that this is your life, and you are the one to change it. Being an exchange student, and living in a different country for a while has opened my eyes. We learn a different language; we learn other traditions, and cultures. We learn to accept, and to be respected. We learn to be responsible, and to be careful. We learn to be friendly, and to be polite. Most of all, we learn how to live.

After four months, I have found a hand full of good friends, who I can trust, and I have gotten to know even more people. I know now, that it is my job to talk to people, and to ask about their lives. I am the one who came to their country. Baby Steps to Greatness.