You know that your life is there from the beginning. But what about courage, which you don’t have simply for being born? We do not have courage when our life starts and everybody knows that. Your courage grows with your life experiences and as you get older. Sometimes it grows really fast, but sometimes you still feel like a kid again – shy, quiet and thinking you will never reach anything in your life.
I was always this way. This sentiment is exactly what described my life one year ago – and my whole childhood, for that matter. I was never the kid saying, “I’m the first!” when the teacher asked us to act or respond to something in class. I never had a good feeling about standing on a stage, or finding friends before they found me, or even simply asking a teacher something. I felt nervous to do all the things that most of the other kids did. They were more courageous than me and I was always jealous of them, but then there was a point in my life where I decided to change my life. Here, my own story starts: I’m a tall girl with blue eyes, dark hair and more courage than before. I was born in Germany and used to live there. That’s right, I used to. Now I’m living in Utah, USA and I had never believed that it would come to this.
One year before I started to prepare for these big changes in my life, after I had already made my decision to come here, it all started with a little thought about an exchange year at an information session. I went there with my dad, who is the best, because he supports me in things I’m doing as well as he can. He differs a little bit from my mom – she worries about me and likes to have me home the whole day. But finally she let me go and I’m so glad for it. A few weeks later though, I had this interview with my coordinator and it went terribly.
There is one important thing that you need to know about me: I was really shy, even in school when the teacher wanted me to say something on the topic in class. Every single time I blushed, and that annoyed me so much. In any case, the interview was with my parents at least, and they talked most of the time, especially my dad because he loves talking. I was just sitting there and said a few words like “Yes, I like it…” and, “no, I don’t really know that,” or “sure, of course.” It was not really me who was talking there, I was just thinking of this incredible study abroad opportunity. I knew that I must be lucky because not everybody can do this, not everyone can live this dream of being an exchange student, like I am now with the Aspect Foundation. Yes, it was a dream: it was my dream. At that point, I was really surprised by myself. What happened to the little, shy girl? This girl that had big dreams, but never believed she could actualize them in reality.
I couldn’t believe that my application was accepted for a year abroad. There was just this one little sentence they said, “We will take you in to our program.” The next few days I waited for my letter with the contract. That was the first and most important step to be a part of the exchange program. After that was done it went step-by-step, eventually to my departure. I thought that I would have a lot of time with friends, but that was not the case. The time passed so quickly that I said to myself: “I hope it will go slower, for my family and friends”, although I wanted to experience America as soon as possible. But then it was only two months away, and then one month. It was a frightening feeling, realizing there are only a few days left to get everything done. A few months ago I had started a little book with all my feelings, fears, emotions, favorite claims and just a little pieces from my life. I wanted to give it to my two best friends, so that they could understand why I’m doing this. I had the feeling that they would never understand it though, because it is not easy when friends disappear from your life. But for me, it was like chasing a dream and I wanted it myself.
And then, suddenly, the last day was there. Everything was ready; my suitcase was packed and my little book was already in the hands of friends. I had this weird feeling in my stomach – something like excitement. It was not really a surprise, but normally I would become excited on the very day, not the day before. I was thinking: “It’s over now. I will not see my family until I’m going home next year, ten months later, after my year abroad.” For me it was not really hard to say goodbye to everybody, except my mom and my boyfriend at the time. The thing is, I was looking forward to meeting my host family. Once, a few weeks ago, I called my host mom and everybody in my new family was excited to meet me like I was for them. I thought the call was horrible though, because I knew my English would be bad and I didn’t know these people. Fear is what it is. I didn’t feel something like courage in me, just fear and questions. What are they like? Would they like me? How do we handle problems if they arise? All these questions almost killed me, but I did not ask them in the call because there was still the shy kid in me, somewhere.
But today, after a few months in America, I know better: I’m starting to love my host family. It just happens suddenly, when you are spending the whole time with them and sharing everything with them. Right now I still can’t believe I am here, because it still feels like a dream. But it isn’t just a dream, it is more…it is my life abroad, my exchange year. I started to think in English and my language gets better and better. Besides this, my courage has grown enormously, and that is the point of an exchange student: You are learning to use your character to be courageous and your life experience will be to overcome your fears. I never believed in that before, but it is true and I’m proud of myself.
At the airport in Germany my dad said to me: “We are proud of you!” and I will never forget that sentence. It will be in my mind forever, because it was the last thing he said to me and it makes me so happy. If there is anything I have learned in the last few months, it is that you can always learn more about your parents. You can make new friends forever, learn different traditions, love a new family besides your own, and that living “another life” brings forth a wealth of new experiences. But the most useful thing of an exchange year is that your courage grows more and more – exponentially – and you can trust yourself to try out new things. I don’t want to think about the shyness in my past any longer.
Everybody can improve his or her own courage, and sometimes it grows even faster than you expect it to. Study abroad, be an exchange student and expand your world.
Thanks to Aspect Foundation and everybody in my life for supporting me and making this awesome year happen!
Written by Birte from Germany