Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Following Exchange Life

Time has slipped by so quickly like holding soap in wet hands; the more your hands tighten, begging for grip, it slips out on its own.  That's what my time following exchange felt like.

It's been over a month since that big adventure and feelings of it gently stir inside of me every now and then, like waves swiftly ebbing on an ocean shore.  As I fully accepted that it's long over, my time at home has been reasonably enjoyable.  I was rather surprised of how comfortable I was being back at home, with my family, my own room and my hometown filled with friends who've never quitted our friendship.  Nothing has greatly changed except for a local flood disaster.  Everyone was happy that I came back, and I felt ready to move on.

I eagerly jumped back into my busy lifestyle as I began a summer job doing housekeeping in a mountain lodge, revising grade 11 notes to prepare myself for the coming senior year, taking driving lessons and even squeezed in some time for hang outs with friends.

My friends here at home are awesome.  When I saw them again, we all jumped and hugged and it was such a warm reunion.  They let me catch up on missed news and they also listened to some of my stories in France.  We laughed over gossip and it truly felt like I had my place back again.  Of course we all changed but we somehow overcame to accept those differences and just kept moving on our friendship together.  Honestly, I was so lucky to have these friends since it made my homecoming feel naturally complacent.  Usually so many of us exchangers come home having misfortunate confusions, disorientations and fatigue; also known as reverse culture-shock.

Some argue that students with little or no reverse culture-shock didn't have a successful year, not having to do self-readjustments to the things that were changed in themselves.  However, other students like me prove that reverse culture-shock may not happen at all even after successful exchanges.  It doesn't mean that we didn't fully adapt or appreciate our host countries; instead, a bigger factor have overpowered the irritable and hostile feelings of that shock.  In my case, it was satisfaction and appreciation.

During my exchange, I've faced problems like the host-culture, school, resources and host families.  We all have a little of it at least!  Hence, our year abroad IS about finding solutions to solve issues to continue flying like happy birds.  For knowing that I have accomplished my goals - from making friends to conveying an important opinion to another using a foreign language - I reached an extremely high level of satisfaction of my exchange.  Obviously everything doesn't turn out perfectly the way you want it to be; but to know that you tried feels good enough.

I've also realized that being separated from home opens up a different and fresh view of... home (surprisingly)!  Recognizing the things that I didn't have during my year made me clearly see my values.  I must admit that Canada is a livable and peaceful country compared to some others and we are tremendously fortunate to live here.  Acknowledging my home country made my return easy and perhaps will make me a happier Canadian!

Anyhow, having or not having reverse culture-shock is in any way, a successful exchange.  Again, there is no right or wrong.  So current or future exchange students out there: don't panic about your return!  As long as you are grateful for the people who support you AND even the challenges that push against you, the year will be a promising and fulfilling year that will help you truly mature from the lessons you will learn from.

On another note, I came back from an orientation weekend at Kamp Kiwanis, near Calgary, organized by the Rotary District 5360.  There, I had the opportunity to meet all my outbound friends again (who went on exchange like me but to different countries), fresh inbounds (new exchange students whose Canadian adventure has just begun), and members of the Rotary Youth Exchange committee.  It was an incredible occasion to see the outbounds again since the last time we met was back in April 2012.  And now, we are officially Rotexes (ex-exchangers)!  (*Fan fare*)

With my two Rotex friends who went to Germany and Venezuela

More of my Rotex friends after enjoying delicious ice-cream ♥♥
Snap-shot of an intense game of Camouflage

Evening activities organized by senior Rotexes

What I enjoyed the most about the weekend was the circle group discussion and story sharing between us Rotexes.  We've endlessly talked about our exchanges: the funny times, those regretfully awkward moments, the food (super important topic!) and even the tough situations we've struggled in.  And it all turns out that every exchange was unique and we appreciated the different experiences each of us have swam through without drowning.  Witnessing everyone's growth by looking at their transformed personalities and global knowledge was jaw-dropping; the shyest boy that I met before exchange became the most outgoing person out of the group, and the girl who was daunted from learning an Asian language became literally fluent.  (Kudos to those who are learning languages that don't use the alphabet!)  I couldn't believe how much a single year can do to us and what an impact it will leave on us for the rest of our lives.  Looking at myself, I wonder if I have changed a lot too.

Friendly mix of Rotexes and inbounds
Now looking at the inbound students, I can only stretch the corners of my mouth into a huge smile because I know what an amazing year they'll go through.  I know this because I was there too.  I know what it feels like to be plopped in an alien-like setting and to be speechless because you're either shocked or awed - but also 'cause you don't have the ability to even talk from the first place!  I know that gratifying feeling after someone says, Ton français a beaucoup progressé!  (Your French has improved a lot!)  And most importantly, I know what it feels like when you have someone to support you.  A caring friend who simply asks how you're doing can really lift all the heavy burden off your back.  Whereas I've gone through all of that, I want to be like that person who helped me out when I was needing it, because I know how much it'll mean to those who I'll help.  

Massage train!! (Recovering from the day-long activities)
And speaking of giving back for what they gave me, I know that I need to owe so much to my home Rotary Club in Canmore.  There are so many people I could thank in thousands of paragraphs, but I need to give a big acknowledgement to Janet, my outbound counsellor of that club.   She has helped me in so many ways that I can't explain just using words.  When things got really out of hand, it was her who stepped up and gave me a lift, even though she was practically standing at the other corner of the planet.  She showed me her care for my well-being and I was so grateful for having her as my back-up.

So to thank the many like her, I decided that I want to give them my thanks by keeping myself involved with Rotary.  It is a perfect opportunity to do so because Rotary needs more youth engagement and I think that I would be a good candidate to promote that.  Therefore, Amelia and I who are both going to high school next year are going to launch an Interact Club: Rotary International’s service club for youths aged 12 to 18, advocating community service with assistance and sponsorship from the Rotary Club of Canmore.  This way, I hope I'm giving back to Rotary for what they've given to me.

Representing my home club: The Rotary Club of Canmore
(Left to right): Me, Amelia (who went to Japan), a Rotarian and Pablo (this year's inbound student from Spain!)

To those beloved readers out there, especially to those who've read from the introduction: you must be thinking, When is she gonna write "The End"??  I mean, yeah, my exchange is definitely over and I can't write more about my travels in France and all-about.  (Sorry, that means no more photos of French cuisine and me jumping in front of the Eiffel Tour.)  However, the after-exchange life is an equally important part to the exchange year itself since we all keep changing.  Especially that we now turn into adults, necessary choices have to be made.  Besides, who said that there's an end to adventure?  Folks, my adventure keeps going on!  I will lay this blog to rest for a while (assuming no one wants to hear my sufferings of senior year) and I will call you out again in March 2014 when I will meet the Rotexes and inbounds again, plus the new outbounds. 

Just like you would have probably guessed: 

Still adventuring,