I was going to write something like this, but now there is no need. Caitlin (caitlinscanada.tumblr.com) summed up how I am feeling pretty much perfectly. I am so so scared to leave, especially not knowing when or even if I will ever see these people that have impacted me so much over this past year again. I never thought leaving at the end of an exchange would be harder than leaving family at the beginning, but now it’s not, “I’ll see you in a year”, it’s really a “goodbye”. And that is so much more difficult. I know that I plan to come back to Oklahoma and visit, but who knows what will happen between now and then?
It’s hard to believe in such a short time ill be heading back to where i began. This time 9 months ago I stood at the airport crying in the arms of my family and friends, the ‘goodbye, until next year’ was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to say. But in hindsight it was one of the best I ever could have. I left confused, had I made the right choice? As I cried so hard the flight attendant had to comfort me, the weight of what I had just done really hit me. When I arrived, would my family be kind? Would I make friends easily? Would the language just suddenly flow into my head?
My mind was full of questions as I began this journey, and I have found more answers than I ever thought I could.
To have friends from all around the world is a feeling beyond words. Knowing war can be breaking out all around all the time, people bombing innocent others, and the plain difficulties of just getting internationally from point a to point b - these are all things you see in new light as an exchange student. In less than two months time I will say goodbye to my friends. To my family who know everything about me, and have grown to be as much a real family as a host family. And it’s sad to say I know some of these will end up being ‘goodbye forever’. In two months I will not be repeating the ‘goodbye, see you next year’ because the truth is all of you amazing people are simply too far out of my grasp. New Zealand is such an isolated place, we miss so much of the worlds influence by the lack of travel we do. I know kiwis are flightless birds, but I beg you all to travel. Take a few weeks, a year, and just truly immerse yourself in every aspect of life. Live with the locals, do the local things - these are what will change your life. After all a man who travels but stays only with his own countries men, will change his surroundings but not his customs. I promise you will come home a different person.
It breaks my heart to see how the world can still be such a corrupt place. There is no racism between exchange students. We are here, we are equals, and I understand now what AFS told me when they said this is about ‘breaking cultural barriers’. If something ever happens to a county now, it is going to effect me as much as if it was my own. For we are not different, we are all merely humans in different circumstances. We all think the same, we have the same emotions, we love the same and we can cry the same.
Very soon I will pack all I have found back into my suitcase. But this time it won’t be heavy of questions and doubt, it will be full of memories and success. This year has made me a better person, I see the world in a new light.
I arrived as an individual and I will be leaving knowing here is a family, not a ‘host family’ but rather my second real family, who have given me everything. Who took me in when times were hard, and gave me more opportunities than I could have ever dreamt of. I came here as an individual, and I’m leaving knowing that I’m part of a worldwide unit of exchange students, who were there when I laughed, and there when I cried. The bond I have formed with these people is something indescribable to those who have not been in our shoes.
I have to leave my country, to go home to country. And there people will be waiting. The same amazing family, the same amazing friends, the same place where I have grown up. Yet I am a different person, and it scares me to death thinking about how I will fit back into my old life now, when I’m arriving at the same place, but not as the same me. I have grown more in the last 9 months than I did in my entire 17 years before this.
It’s hard to believe in less than two months I am heading back to where I began. I will be standing in the arms of my new friends and family, crying and begging for a few more days. Wishing for any extra time, and asking how it passed so quickly. Everyone is making frantic plans now to see one another one last time, and tears are being shed when the plans don’t follow through. I will never forget you all, and if I can’t see you now I promise some time in the future we’ll all be reunited. Lets enjoy our last time here, before we have to go home and try and share this with people who don’t quite truly understand it. Lets enjoy our last time here, before those last goodbyes.
And remember, ‘Distance is not for the fearful, it is for the bold. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with those they love. It’s for those knowing a good thing when they see it, even if they don’t see it nearly enough’.