Terrifying. The experience starts way before you move out, when you have piles and piles of documents to fill out, infinite doctor appointments to attend, list of painful shots to take, and letters to write about things that you might not even know about yourself yet. It is a long and hard process to go through. You wait for endless months to get an answer from a family that you have never heard of before and that you know nothing about. But when I decided to embark on this crazy adventure no one told me it would be easy. On the contrary, they tried to prepare me for whatever was coming next - something that was unknown. So yes, terrifying is probably the appropriate word to describe it at first.
Life changing. Once you find out who is going to be your new family for the next year and where you are supposed to go next, things change. Now you have names, faces, and numbers to associate your future to. You still do not know what is happening, but the terrifying feeling changes into excitement butterflies in your stomach. And they are going to stay there for a couple of months, and you may or may not get used to them. And that is exactly what I felt on this adventure. I am the kind of person that does not know how to wait for things to happen, I am impatient, and I always have a lot of expectations in my mind. However, when you are an exchange student, you can’t let that happen to yourself, you would rather be surprised than disappointed. Therefore, I would say it helped me control my own feelings, not letting them get the best of me.
More than discovering about another culture, meeting new people and new places, being an exchange student is about discovering about yourself, to be honest. I arrived in the United States seven months ago, and since then, I have learned more about me than I have ever learned during the past 17 years living in Brazil. When you move to another country and need to face another culture, you learn how to have your own opinion about things and to stand up for it no matter what. But you also learn how to listen to people’s thoughts without feeling the necessity to disagree with them, because you realize that being different doesn’t mean being better or worse, it is just different. You find out that you have more habits than what you thought you did. You start to have more mature actions and reactions. You learn to think, create and live out of the box you were raised in. And I could not be more thankful for that. Not because I don’t like the box that my parents worked their best to build for me, but now I know that I can have my own box and decorate it with whatever I want, some things might be from them, and some might not. And that is totally fine.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” Anita Desai wrote that once, and it became one of the quotes that I love the most. All of my memories and the friends that I have made here turned into a big portion of who I am becoming. The worst part of being an exchange student is not to leave your country, it is to go back to your country. I didn’t choose where I was going at the beginning of my application to the program, and I am happy with that. I could never choose anywhere better than here. I am sad it is almost over, but I am also happy that it happened. Woodlawn High School is now a part of me, and it will always be.
By: Beatriz Diniz Oliveira