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“If not now, when?” | Teresa from Italy

Teresa from Italy visits Chicago with her host family.

Teresa from Italy visits Chicago with her host family.

Have you ever wanted to know what it really feels like to be an Aspect Foundation exchange student in America?

This week Teresa from Italy writes an insightful guest post to express her feelings as the exchange year comes to a close. Teresa expertly reveals what it’s really like to be an exchange student, and how her year in Nebraska and the support of her host family helped Teresa truly discover herself.

Hosting Aspect Foundation exchange students doesn’t just change the lives of our host families, it changes our students’ lives forever by helping them grow, and by better equipping them for an adulthood where they never give up on their dreams.

Teresa making pasta with her host mom and nana in Nebraska.

April 12th, 2016

I can still feel it, a suitcase in each hand, a pair of shoes that probably were not made for walking that much, worn out as they were, and my thoughts up there, over the clouds, both figuratively and physically. Never-ending flights, long running races against the wheels of the trolleys around me in the airports, dragged by current of the common rush, to then realize that the waiting time was more than one hour. Eight months passed. Eight extremely fascinating and challenging months. Some days slipped away in a second, others seemed like they were never going to end, but I am forever grateful for all I have gone through, good and bad, because I have learnt more than what I could ever expect.

I have learnt that until you live far away from anything familiar, you do not understand how difficult it can be; you can be prepared as much as you want, but you just do not know.

I have learnt that in this world there are so many places and people that are so different from each other, even in the most surprising and remote ways.

I have learnt that if you defeat the first impression you have of those people, if you stop for a second more thinking about the divergences between their lives and yours, and if you abandon the most hidden prejudices, you will understand that what we all want are the same things, love and a reason to live for, and we are scared of the same things, too.

Teresa at the Omaha zoo with her host sister.

Teresa at the Omaha zoo with her host sister.

I have learnt that people can be more generous and caring than what I thought of.

I have learnt to call “family” someone that, one year ago, I had no idea existed, and to call “home” a place that, for some time before after my arrival, did not mean anything to me.

I have directly faced my worst defects, fears, weaknesses and scars from the past, and rose up against them, starting walking on the less traced path, in which my best qualities, instead, could find proper justice.

I understood how to re-establish my own standards, and how to develop a new opinion on some subjects, and just because of what I have been in contact with.

I have experienced how much distance affects the intensity of the feelings people have over issues in other parts of this planet; and it’s been difficult to deal with it the 13th of November and the 22nd of March, the days of the attacks in Paris and Bruxelles, when the dolorous thorn directly stuck into my heart could not find matching emphasis in the surrounding space.

I have heard bad news and good news from home, and now I know, more than ever, that life is short, the lesson of ‘If not now, when?’ Because “The secret of getting ahead is getting started” (M. Twain), and that dreams only exist to be lived.

Teresa celebrating New Year's Eve with other Nebraska exchange students.

Teresa celebrating New Year’s Eve with other Nebraska exchange students.

I have promised to myself to reach what I want in the future, because finally the fog around it disappeared.

I have re-lived my whole life in a few months, remembered things that I had forgotten, and understood them better.

My experiences here are stuck to my emotions like mown grass to a pair of bare feet.

Finally, I have discovered who I am, not who society’s rules tried to teach me to be.

And I am determined to keep walking, running and (why not?) flying towards what my objective is: to be true to myself and to others.

-Teresa from Italy, in Nebraska

Visiting Chicago with her host mom, sister, nana and cousin.

Interested in sharing YOUR corner of the world with an international exchange student? Learn more about becoming a host family at: http://aspectfoundation.org/host-families.