Here’s a quote that all exchange students hear from the very start of their exchange and know off by heart for the rest of their life.
“It’s not a year in your life but a life in a year!”
Well, sometimes it definitely feels like I’ve been on exchange for years but also feels like it was yesterday that I was boarding the flight to leave my old life in Australia and to start a new one half-way across the world in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Rotary youth exchange during the Coronavirus pandemic certainly hasn’t been a “normal” exchange and it definitely has not been an easy one. I was fortunate to have experienced at least 2 months of “normal life” on exchange and Ski-Week before Coronavirus containment measures came into effect and we went into the first lockdown. Then in July, all the other exchange students in Bratislava completed their exchange and returned home, which left me as the only RYE student in Bratislava. This really encouraged me to create better friendships with people at school and other friends as in the first half of my exchange I spent a lot of my time with other exchange students. Unfortunately, we returned to online schooling and lockdown, which felt like I was pushed two steps back as I was always at home.
There were many times during lockdown where I wished to return home and was ready to give up as the coronavirus situation wasn’t improving. It was really saddening seeing a lot of things I was looking forward to, getting cancelled one after the other. I felt like there was no reason to be here if I couldn’t really do anything or go anywhere but I am glad I stayed through it all and am able to say that I stuck out to the very end and completed my exchange despite everything that happened in 2020.
Over the past 11 months in Slovakia, I believe I have matured and have been able to learn so much about myself as well. I think as teenagers/young adults we need time away from family and friends to have a feeling of a new start and for personal development and maturation. For me, I knew I needed this exchange experience. I have lived in the same small town in Australia for almost my entire life. My life in Australia was very stable in the sense that I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I knew what I was doing every week and where I was going. I have never had to put myself out there and make friends because I knew everyone in my grade since preschool and I had never had to use google maps when I got lost… (that happened one too many times here).
During my exchange, I have noticed myself becoming more introverted, more relaxed and maybe more self-conscious than when I was back home, although many expect the opposite to happen whilst on exchange. I think that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Before exchange I didn’t like being alone and I enjoyed being busy all the time. I feel like I am more comfortable with being by myself and I am able to see it as being alone and not being lonely. I think I have learnt that productivity isn’t always school or work based but can be a hobby or relaxing. I still have to remind myself not to feel guilty for having a bit of down-time and try to stop putting pressure on myself to be busy and thinking productively all the time. I have gained a new look on life while on exchange which I am extremely grateful for as I would not have been able to learn about myself and my mind if I hadn’t had this time while on exchange.
I think exchange has really helped to prepare me for life once I leave home, as I have already had a glimpse into what it would be like. I experienced moving away from home (to the other side of the earth), being by myself/not knowing anyone and learnt how to be responsible for myself.
I am so thankful for everything I have learnt, experienced, all the great memories and amazing new friends i made this year and I would like to thank everyone who was involved in my exchange year!
And to anyone contemplating going on Rotary Youth Exchange, just do it! No matter what happens during your exchange, it will be an unforgettable year with so many amazing memories, experiences and new friends!
Thankyou for taking the time to read my post : )