25/5/2015 – London, UK.
Now playing: Corinne Bailey Rae – Is This Love
Today is the first anniversary of my blog and so much things have been going on. That’s probably the reason why it’s feeling like May 68 in my head (but like without any drugs or sex). During the last weeks, I passed all my exams, have been accepted at the Erasmus Uni of Rotterdam, and after almost 9 months in London, I finally did something with my host fam (yep, I think it deserves a standing-ovation mate!) and met their family. I also passed through hard times, but also beautiful moments with my best friends in the whole world, Carlo & Vero and convinced my lovely mum to come in London to visit me (ok, I think that after 9 months, I can admit it.. I kind of miss her). Finally, I also spent some time with Princess Sarah and the day before yesterday, I started to pack. Yes.. to pack. You know what it does mean: Soon, I’ll have to leave.
How I feel? I don’t know. I have a thousands of feelings absolutely contradictory that are struggling inside me and I’m constantly switching from an emotion to another, without truly understanding what is going on. Of course, I want to come back home and of course, I don’t want to leave London.
The problem is that I only have 35 days left here, and there are still a thousand things I’d like to do, which I know are impossible to realise, because I definitely don’t have the budget to do so, and overall, I would need a lot more than 35 days to make it possible. What hurts me is that I realise that the whole life built up here, all my daily-routine, my squads, my family, all of this, in just a bit more than a month, it’s over. Nothing will ever be the same again. Neither London, nor me. Even if I come back here later (who knows.. Life can be quite surprising sometimes..), everything will be different. If you are an exchange student, you certainly know what I mean.. All those small details which make your exchange days so special, your routine, the buses you take, the ways you pass through, certain contacts with certain people, special smells, your favourite places, some sounds or even music that you now connect to precise memories. All of this, all these things that make your life exactly the way it is right now. All those small details which alone have absolutely no interest, but which, put together, make of this experience something unique, special and important to you. To realise that all of this -this life that I built- will soon not be part of my everyday life anymore, but only a vague part of my past just makes me feel s o u p s e t. Worst: it scares me. I’m scared to forget. I’m scared that this travel will once turn like my other trip in Brazil; I’m scared that, little by little, all my memories will fly away, to finally have the sensation that all of this was only a dream, a story that someone told me once, as if it wasn’t really a part of my own life. I’m scared that what defines me today will tomorrow only be fainted memories buried deeply inside me. I’m scared that the time and the distance could make all the people that I love and who count deeply to me misunderstood or unknown. This idea terrifies me. Sometimes, I’d like to go back, at the exact moment when I dumped my suitcases on the English soil. I’d like to have the opportunity to live all the small moments again, even more intensively, imbibing myself of them until they will not only be a part of me, but my whole being. I’d like to profit out again and again of all the small discoveries and to relive each emotions as a first time, with this only certitude: the one of being at the right place at the right moment, the one of having my heart always more open to the world and its little marvels.
Of course, I’m happy to go back. You can’t even imagine how good it will be to come back home. To recover the comfort of the undergone, the familiar smells, the renowned voices, the habitual tastes. I only dream about hugging my family again, to take brunch with them on the garden terrace, or to argue again with my little brothers. I’d like to be in my room, my bed, my bathroom. I’d like to walk casually and freely in all the places that I’m accustomed to, without worrying of how I’m
non-dressed, or of the fact that I’m surrounded by people who aren’t unknown to me anymore but who are still strangers. I will be happy not to feel this horrid lack in my breast, and to communicate with people I love in another way than via Skype or Facebook. I will be happy to share what I’m living with them, not feeling that they aren’t a real part of my life anymore and thus, that I don’t have anything to tell them because they won’t feel concerned by what’s happening to me. I’m really excited to feel part of a family again, and not only to be with a family.
I guess that all this is part of travelling; they shape our most wonderful memories (at least mine!), but also the saddest and hardest one. This is what I’d like to talk about today, because I think it’s important to avoid to embellish things, not to idealise them. This is even more important to me that sometimes, I had the feelings that one sublimated the idea of travelling to the ES-to-come, hiding all the truth. So below, you will find all the advantages and disadvantages of travelling as an exchange student.
Your exchange year will most probably be the best that you could live because after this year, you will have so many opportunities to show off because you will speak one more language at a C4 level (and I’m not talking about the car here). The C4 level, for those who don’t know what it means, it is when you have a better grammar than most of the natives but people still mistaken you for a tourist because of your ‘exotic’ accent. And finally, it’s no that bad, because your accent is like a part of your identity, a small piece of your home country in your heart that your mouth still don’t want to get rid off. Anyway, what I wanted to say is that to go abroad in a host family is the best way to learn/improve a language, because you are immersed 24/7 in it. You can’t cheat, because from the exact moment you’ll put down your suitcases, you will speak the language, eat the language, breathe the language, in brief, you will live the language. And believe me, being abroad is far more efficient than taking any intensive language lessons, where you’ll study vocab’ lists which are longer than your dictionary, but that you’ll never use in your daily-life.
To live with natives is also the best way to discover a new culture from inside. Whether it is its national dish (by the way, if you want to travel for the food.. never chose England.. no but seriously, I’m not kidding! Prefer Italy.), its literature, its music, its history or its culture. To go abroad as an exchange student is completely different than to travel as a tourist, because you live the culture. You are not there to do exactly the same things that you do in your home country among a crowd of tourists, believe me. You’ll even experiment its education system (ah yes.. because just to remind you, you are there to study). In my case, it gave me a totally different view on what education is and motivated me to learn a lot more than in my homecountry. And finally, apart from the fact that it will allow you to overcome all your prejudices and stereotypes, opening always a little bit more your skimpy European ming, it is also without any doubt the most enriching cultural sharing possible.
You will also have a new family, composed by people from all over the world, with whom you will create links that you didn’t expect. Some of them will be your closest friends for years, and you will lose contact with others but nevermind, it doesn’t matter because this is how life is: sometimes you walk a part of your way with people but, after a certain amount of time, your ways just split off. There is nothing wrong with it, because it is just the way it is. By the way, all these people that you will meet will teach you how to live in community, with people that have other ways to think, other priorities and customs than yours. Naturally, this will not be easy, but I promise you that it will be really enriching.
An exchange is also a life experience, which will make you taste freedom, confronting yourself to life and all the responsibilities that come with it. It’s a golden chance to go out of your comfort zone, discovering the magic one, the place of all possibilities. Out of the spatiotemporal space of your monotonous daily-life, you will discover a thousand things, burning hundreds of sublime memories in the deepest places of your memories, that you will share later not without a bit of pride, with your friends and family. All this while increasing drastically your employment prospects! If this is not a foretaste of paradise mate, I don’t know what it is!
At last -and to me, it’s the most interesting part of an exchange- y o u a r e f r e e. You have the opportunity to reset your whole life. Meaning you can be whoever you’d like to be – yourself, for example – because people have no expectations about you. It will allow you to discover yourself more deeply, melt into a crowd of strangers that are just waiting to get to know the wonderful person that you are. It will also allow you to take a certain distance with all your problems, analysing it being less subjective and putting things into perspective, calling yourself into question, and sorting things through (yes, it does mean that you’re going to lose some friends, but I heard once that the person that isn’t your friend anymore has never been). All this will bring you so many good things for your future: you will learn to understand others (and yourself in the meantime) to tolerate them even more, you will open yourself to the world, learning to be so much more flexible, taking things as they come. You will also improve your communication skills, because no matter how shy you are, you will be obliged to go towards the others. The result of all of this? You will boost your self confidence and be much more mature!
In brief, all these little things will finally make this year soooooooo beneficial, shaping most probably the best moments of your life.
But apart from that, there are dozen of things that nobody will tell you about. Nobody will prepare you to face all the difficulties that you will have to overcome. Nobody will teach you to face the contemptuous glance of the people who think that travelling is a waste of time, a lost year. Nobody will describe you accurately how cultural shock can be hard, and even less how to overcome it, how to end this general incomprehension that will surrounds your first weeks on the foreign soil, when you will be unable to stop comparing your host country with your home country, because you simply are unable to understand this culture that isn’t yours. No matter of your language skills before leaving, nobody can prepare you to all the communication difficulties that you will have to encounter, to the omniscient frustration you will feel when you can’t share your ideas. Nobody will arm yourself of enough self-mockery to face (even after a year) all the (kind) mockeries about your accent, which will hurt you, sooner or later. And nobody will explain you that no matter of the amount of time you’ll spend abroad, you’ll never be bilingual because being bilingual is a myth. Nobody will give you the keys to adapt yourself to the
repugnant different food of your host country, that you will be obliged to eat at least twice a day. Nobody will explain you the health problem you’ll have to face: neither all this weight you’ll gain and the dermatological problems you’ll have because of your alimentation, nor the stool issues (absolutely charming, I know! no need to thank me for that) that will be the hard result of your alimentation. Nobody will warn you about the huge fatigue that will be part of your daily life the first weeks. We will not talk enough about the integration difficulties that you will have with your family and in your school, nor of the omniscient feeling of solitude. We will not tell you how much you’ll feel misunderstood, as you can’t really talk about your issues to the people that are surrounding you or your friends and family, who can’t understand what you are living. We will not explain you how hard it will be to face all the different situations and problems of your everyday life alone, and how upset and helpless you will feel every single time you’ll hear bad news from your home country (yes, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the world doesn’t stop while you’ll be abroad.. people keep dying, getting sick, etc.). We can’t accurately describe how much you’ll miss your family and friends, and how hard it’s gonna be to only have contact with them via webcam, unable to touch them. We won’t tell you enough how long-distance relationships are hard, and how complicated it will be to keep contact with some people because of the time difference. We won’t explain you how frustrated you’ll feel after 10 months of abstinence (yes, sorry mate but I needed to tell you: as a general rule, you can forget sex while on exchange), nor how much you are going to miss your comfort and the food of your home country. Nobody will show you the real cost of such a travel. And I’m not only talking about the exorbitant price of an exchange, but also of the time and energy that it represents. By the way, as we are talking about money, nobody will prepare you to the fact of being perpetually broken, sick of these ATM fees that make you buy your own money. Also, nobody will praise the disadvantages of travelling with an organisation, this holy Big Brother, which will remind you approximately everyday that you aren’t on holidays, but that you are an exchange student, meaning you are not allowed to drink alcohol, to have sex, to drive or to travel alone in the country and overall, to see your own family and friends during more than 9 months. And finally, when you will have accepted and appreciated all of this, nobody will tell you how hard it will be to pack your stuff and to leave everything behind you.
But after all, this is maybe what travelling is all about: filling your heart of thousands of tiny marvels to finally leave some pieces of it everywhere you’ll go. Every single time, no matter of the place, the time you’ll spend there and the people you’ll be with, you’ll have the certitude to be terribly happy, and you’ll be each time a bit more torned up by the idea of leaving. Finally, travels are like life: a mountain of intense emotions, of happiness and sorrow, that makes you feel alive. Also, if you are hesitating packing your stuff and go away, don’t. You don’t need to be rich to travel. You don’t need to be accompanied to travel. You don’t need to be old to travel. You don’t need to be young to travel. All you need is a bit of love to share with the people you’ll meet, and a small amount of courage to take all the opportunities that will cross your way.