In the blog about The Exchange Student Cycle, I mentioned that at the end of an exchange, the worst part of being an exchange student becomes clear. No one warns you about how difficult it is to come home.
When you choose to be an exchange student, you know in your head that you are going to become attached to your new country. You know that you will have host families and that you will make friends abroad. You hope they will be close friends. You hope you will love your families. Friends and families provide the strength and value of an exchange, but they also cause the greatest pain. When you leave home, you expect to see all your friends and families in a year, but when it comes time to leave your new country, you realize that you may never see these people again. They have become a precious part of your life, and you are leaving them behind to return to your old life. If you have had the wonderful year you wanted to have, you are about to be disemboweled. Unless you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, it is unlikely you will ever have experienced the suffering you will endure when you leave your exchange friends and families behind to return to your old life. You can never return to your exchange life. Even if you return to the country, it will never be the same again.
If you’ve had a successful exchange year, you will have embraced a new life. You will feel part of a new culture. You’ll be dreaming in a new language. You will feel like you belong in that world, and the life you left at home will seem very, very far away. You will wonder that you ever found it strange and difficult to fit in. You will find it difficult to remember what life was really like back home, and that’s the moment when they send you home.
Now the crushing truth becomes clear. You are leaving people you love behind, and you may never see them again. The pain is engulfing. Your heart is about to be torn in half, and left behind in your exchange country. When your heart is left behind, the exchange was everything it was supposed to be.
Rotary Youth Exchange: opening minds and breaking hearts since 1929.