I have always been a dreamer.
For me, the word ‘home’ has never been about a house or a place, but the world. My home is the world, and now more than ever, this word means something.
Traveling is something mysterious and extraordinary if you do it right. It’s not about fancy hotels where there is no need to go out. Traveling is seeing the place around the fancy hotel, meeting people, eating local food. When I realized that, I decided to start my travel adventures, my own experience.
Without anybody, but by myself, to open my eyes, my mind, and my heart.
So here I am, in America for the first time as an exchange student.
After months of preparation, my mom helped me put my suitcase in the car, kissed me and gave me a goodbye hug. It would be the last time I will see her for a year. I took off with my dad and my sister to Paris, where a group of French exchange students and I took a plane to London.
I could feel the fear and the anxiety in some of them but we were all ready to step out of our comfort zone and start something new, something bigger.
I have never been so sure of something in my life before this experience. My eyes were amazed by all the new stuff I was seeing and my heart was pounding in my chest, not because of fear but because of excitement.
I remember my legs moving toward the main room in Peoria airport, moving my head and looking for strangers that now I have the chance to call family. Not host family, but just family.
Being with them was the beginning of everything. I remember my first preoccupation and cultural differences: Do we hug? Do we kiss? What do Americans do? But rapidly all this just disappeared, leaving only joy and curiosity for getting to know each other.
I have been in a small town in Illinois for more than 100 days now, and every day is like an adventure where I find more differences between my two countries.
I learn at school, but I learn the most from people. The ones I’ve met at church, through my host family, or my new friends from school. I take new classes like creative writing. I enjoy new holidays like Thanksgiving. I pretend to be in the movies I grew up with by going to football games or college basketball games. I live new experiences with friends like going to the haunted house or going Black Friday shopping.
I can’t describe to anyone how it is to be a total stranger but to be welcomed as a total member of the community.
People often ask me if I miss home, but no, I don’t. I miss my family and my friends. I want to tell them what I do, and I want them to experience things with me.
But other than that, no, I don’t miss home because the world is my home, and hence Illinois too is my home.
I have more days to live here and I know that they will be the best days of my life. I know that this experience will be the best experience ever.
I truly believe now, that exchange students can not only change some of the preconceived ideas in their home countries upon their return, but also the stereotypes that people have about their home countries in the host country. They can do so by sharing the culture of the countries and acting as representatives of the nations.
We, exchange students, are a new generation of citizens and regardless of all the events happening now, it is our duty to break the walls between our civilizations and make the world a better place to travel. A better place to live.
The above article was originally submitted as Juliette’s letter to the editor for the International Education Week Scavenger Hunt. Juliette won third place in the contest. For more information about hosting, studying abroad, and becoming an International Coordinator, visit http://www.aspectfoundation.org.