I did not know what I should expect when I decided to go on an exchange. Well I knew I would learn about a new culture, new country and meet new people somewhere far, far away from that so called home. I heard a couple of times that an exchange year would change you. I never understood how that would be possible. How can you change in just a year? It always takes ages to grow up just a bit. But now I know. An exchange year changes you in many different ways you would expect it to. It changed me in ways which are hard to explain. It influenced my personality, perspectives and way of living. This time taught me things I never knew and would have never known without this experience. It grew to be a part of me. New Zealand is a part of me now. I have an indescribable beautiful and unique connection to that country and people now.
I can understand it is hard for people who never experienced something like that to understand this phenomenon. It can be hard to understand how important this experience is for me but also for young teenagers all over the world and their development.
Something you have to understand though is one of the most cliché sayings in the exchange world ‘an exchange is not a year in a life, it is a life in a year’. It might be hard to imagine but this statement is totally and completely true.
First you decide to go on an adventure somewhere in a country you may have never been to before. And then you arrive there and everything starts to change. You arrive in a country you don’t know. The only thing you know is, you will spend your next year here and you have an address. An address to a family you don’t know either. So first when you arrive you don’t know anything really.
Normally your host family waits all excited at the airport for you, the unknown foreign student. In my case it was the other way round. I waited for them. My plane arrived an hour earlier which is not normal for flights to Christchurch. So I waited. And waited a bit longer until a group of five came running into the airport with a poster in their hands where my name was written on. At that point, when you see your host family, you are already into the adventure of creating a new life.
That’s something that amazed me. I created a whole new life with a unique family which will always be in my heart and friends from zero on. It was an unknown place and I had to communicate in a language I had my struggles with.
With the time moving you start to understand how things work around you. What is appropriate to say and what not. Every conversation, road crossing, supermarket visit, window shopping, class, break time is a challenge at the beginning until it starts to be normal. Of course during the first couple of months there are always some struggles of sad and loneliness to overcome but those are the ones you learn most off. Suddenly though you are like a flower. It is spring time and you can start to grow. Talk. Express yourself. Interact. Joke. And people around you start to see who you really are. You start to find your place in a society far, far away from the one you have been used to. And this leads to your new life and an unforgettable lifetime.
Like always you have to go when you finally found your place. Isn’t that a sick irony? In that case is not ‘a glass half full’ or ‘half empty’. It just sucks. Of course I was really excited to go back to my other home in Switzerland to see my family and friends again. To create some new memories with them. But you leave a completely different live behind you. A life you have worked hard for. And you know you can’t just go back into that life. What is gone is gone.
And now being back in Bern I am glad to be here. It is beautiful here. I appreciate everything a lot more; how dreamy our old town is, how blue the Aare is and how you can always hear three different church bells. But I miss my other life too. I would be lying if I would say it was not worth it. It is worth every single sad moment, every tear I cry because I miss everyone so much. But I think the fact of this sadness only indicates how valuable all the memories are I was able to make in New Zealand. A big thank you to everyone at this point I have spent some time with and were and still are here for me! I think the fact that a relationship with someone from another country can overcome the difference in language, culture and distance means that it is real. It means that two people are at the same ‘wave length’. It will never get easier but it is worth it. Trust me.
After all I would say being abroad is about getting to know yourself from a whole new perspective and questioning everything you have learned to that point of life. You learn there is not just one right way to do something. It is about learning that there is a whole world waiting for you to be explored but to appreciate all the places you have been to. And in reality the year that has passed changed me more than any other year in my life.
Thank you YFU for making my dream of a second home come true.