By Brevin Persike
Special to the Star Journal
The student exchange year I have spent in Brazil has been the best experience in every way imaginable. While I have missed out on a year at RHS, I feel I’ve learned so much more than I could have in a traditional school setting. Experiencing new cultures and places, new people and languages, and even managing to understand the world as an independent person were part of my “school work” abroad. I have made some great memories and had a few not so great times as well, but it’s all part of the exchange student world. Now my year is almost up and I’m not sure how to feel about that; like a lot of exchange students say, I have mixed emotions.
When I first arrived, I noticed immediately how everything was different: the people, the way of life, the streets, languages, schools and weather. Back home I could read about different cultures and see pictures, but that wouldn’t give me the chance to be immersed into it until it became my own. That is the beauty of exchange.
I am so accustomed to the Brazilian lifestyle that it is starting to seem weird that soon I will have to switch back to a different culture, the only one that I used to know. Not only have I experienced the culture of Brazil, but learned what life is like in the homes of my new friends from all over the world. We’ve shared our cultures and told stories of home and became so connected that it’s impossible to say goodbye.
Most of us have made plans for the next few years to visit each other across the world. Just on a cultural level this year can never be replaced, let alone the relationships created and memories made.
Relationships are really what define a year on exchange, in my opinion. The places I visit and fun I have is due to prior relationships. I was fortunate enough on my exchange to become best friends with two of the other exchange students in my city, and good friends with many others that I met along the way. We spent every day together outside of school, usually not doing anything more than wandering through the streets hoping to get lost in a new and exciting adventure. There were countless simple pleasures from this year that I will miss; in fact, I already do. Enjoying the small stuff is what made the year really count for me. Having a group of friends as close as we were is not easy to come by. Ten months ago I didn’t know these people existed. Nine months ago we were going out and learning about each other. Four months ago we were best friends without any end in sight. Two weeks ago we split up and began going our separate ways after a short journey together.
My exchange is something that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world but that doesn’t mean it was always perfect. The challenges that I had throughout the year were mostly quite minor, varying from family misunderstandings to messed up plans with friends or just frustration with being away from home. For example, one of my families (I am currently with my third) was always worrying about me and often wouldn’t let me do anything outside of the house. This was during a school vacation and it was tough to stay in an empty home every day all day. This problem just made me miss home and the ability to drive a car and go out with friends or participate in after school activities.
There is a common saying around the exchange student community, “Exchange isn’t a year in my life. Exchange is my life in a year;” and I know there are always challenges in life, wherever I live. The challenge is pushing through and finding a way to enjoy what you have. Every exchange student I know has had difficulties throughout the course of the year but we didn’t let it get us down.
I have about two weeks left here to say “good bye” to my families and best friends in the world. This is what I’ve been trying not to think about despite knowing that the end would come sometime. The best year of my life is all but over. This “going home” time is the weirdest thing that has happened on my exchange and I know it’s the same for all of us. I feel so at home here with family and friends. I know my way around the city and I speak the language. In some ways I never want to leave and in other ways I can’t wait to be home and see my actual family and my friends from the U.S.
This life I was fortunate enough to be a part of for a year is something pretty special and indescribable. Strangers became family and this became our home. Now that time is over and we need to go back a different home; to the only life we knew before.