How My Exchange Has Changed Me

    It’s been about 10 months since I stepped on a plane, scared out of my mind, and flew to Belgium. I had heard from many people that I would change, my friends and family would change, that things back home would change, and a year ago that scared me. The idea of change was so bad and so weird to think about. Now, here I am, reaching the end of the best year of my life.

    Before my exchange, I was shy and it was very hard for me to talk to new people. I found that I couldn’t be myself, (had a hard time rather) and it was hard to interact at the first Rotary event in Brussels. I also had a hard time communicating with my first host family because of being nervous and also because of the language barrier. In the beginning, I didn’t understand that to really connect, I had to ask questions, answer with more than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, because the culture here is different than back home. In the USA, it’s very normal for teenagers to spend time in their room. I felt so out of place that I made little effort to figure out how to make a better relationship with the family. Now, I am in my last host family and have learned about the Belgian culture and how to be a better exchange student, a lot has changed with how I am with my host family. Like I said, in the beginning, I was quiet and in my room a lot. After a few months I realized I needed to speak more and spend time downstairs whether it was watching tv or sitting on the couch or talking with my host parents. Simply being with everyone even if we’re all doing our own thing is important!

    After a couple months, I was doing a little bit better at talking to people I didn’t know very well, but I still pretty much stuck with a small group of people who also live in the same city as me.

    Before exchange, I never thought I’d be able to take a flight or train alone. Now I have taken dozens of trains with people and also alone. (It’s too easy!) In early January I went to the airport and flew completely alone to Croatia to visit friends from home who live there. A year ago, I could never imagine flying alone. During my exchange, not only did I realize that I have to get past my nerves and just do things, but I also became a lot more independent. I used to need someone to come with me places. I still prefer to have people with me, but I realized I’m completely capable to do things alone sometimes.

    I’m not really sure what happened, but after about 6-8 months here, I started really opening up and talking more and making more friends. I’m so happy that something within me decided to change how nervous I get around people. There are over 200 exchange students in all of Belgium and I see a lot of them pretty often and I’m so glad that I can talk to most of them. During my first few months, I felt like I shouldn’t travel every weekend, and I felt kind of isolated with my feelings and that I should stay home and do nothing. After the new year, I started traveling more and seeing people more. I’m so glad I started making the best out of my exchange. A huge goal I hoped to achieve from my exchange was to be better at talking and making new friends and I’m so happy to be able to say I achieved that.

    Overall, I’d say I’ve really grown as a person. My perspective on life and cultures and the world has changed so much. I respect that all cultures are different, and I love learning about how different countries are from others. My year abroad really has been the most life changing and amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait to see new countries and to share the story of my exchange.

Thank you for everything!

Molly Meissner, Liège, Belgium.


 

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