I thought I’d share with you this recent comment I left on the blog of a young lady recently returned from time abroad (slightly edited for broader audience!)
We have a saying in Rotary, “Once an exchange student, always an exchange student.”
If I am in a room, outbound exchange students find me, whether they know I was one or not. They bounce in their chairs, anticipating their year, and I share their enthusiasm, offer packing tips, and give them hugs.
At school, students from far away sit in my class room to discuss ‘life’ in the surreal bubble that is an inbound exchange year. They vent their frustrations, shout their celebrations, observe their confusions. I listen, encourage, bake, and give them hugs.
They write when they’re back home, rebound students, about the strange dream that their year abroad becomes in memory. The students my club sent join me at my table at our Rotary meeting upon their return in a numbed stupor. I commiserate about the loss they’re experiencing, the strange sensation of being home, but being far from home. I give them hugs.
See that sad face? That’s me on my last day in Finland posing with my 4th host family. That is the face of a broken heart. Still miss them and think of them every day! (Thank heaven for Facebook).
We are tied by the experience of youth exchange, because it’s all paradox. We feel disconnected and connected. Lost and found. Happy and sad.
We each leave pieces of our heart behind in these places that become our second homes, and we never get them back. Hopefully, those we love and leave behind, cherish those pieces for the precious parts of ourselves that they are. Sometimes we are blessed with an opportunity to hold those people against our hearts again, but most of the people who made such a profound impact on our lives, we will never touch again. It is a bitter sweet reality of those who live and love abroad.
Welcome home. Welcome to life with pieces missing. We just go on. We find others with missing pieces and we hold each other as we celebrate what we have known.
Rotary Youth Exchange:
Opening minds and breaking hearts
If you know any exchange students returning home this month. Listen to their stories, ask questions about their year, and give them hugs. They really need them right now.