I was never afraid to leave for an exchange year abroad, which I think most new exchange students should be, but now with less than two months left in Sweden, I am honestly more afraid to go back home.
Before my exchange program, I knew from reading and hearing about past exchange students' experiences that this was going to be "an experience" - to which my inner travel bug screamed contently. It was later on, after seeing and experiencing all the things that I have been lucky enough to on exchange, that I understood that I was going to leave and a part of me will never come back.
Soon I'll have to face the uncomfortable reality of leaving my new family and friends and the life that I've made here and I can say, it's not quite a soft little punch to my heart. In all honesty to you all reading, I'm afraid of what lies waiting for me back home since it's not particularly the surroundings that are different this time, it's me. I have changed so much since the day I first stepped onto that plane and I have really settled into my life here, so much so that I feel like I have forgotten what life was like back in Australia, what my friends or family or even what I was like. So now, nearly 9 months into my exchange, I am afraid that I will feel like more of a foreigner returning back to my home country than I did starting out in my host country.
So of course, I am afraid of leaving my exchange because I know that I will never get to experience this year in the same way ever again. I will never again catch that buss to school every morning or casually hang out with my friends on weekends or be able to do the same activities or sports after school. It’s sad because I know that even if I do return to my host country in the future it won't ever be the same, not entirely, because I won't be living with my host family again.
But despite all of these fears that worry me, I know that many other exchange students probably feel the same way towards the end of their exchange and I guess it is normal to feel some level of reverse culture shock after spending a year away from the ‘norm’. Because as an exchange student, you start from scratch all over again and develop your own identity in a place where nobody knows you, you struggle with a new language, school, community and participate in strange cultural traditions with your host family and new friends and you get a certain attachment to your host family and country that makes you no longer see it as foreign, but as home.
I have learned a lot about myself, gained a second family, language and new friends and I have found where I fit in, what I have passions for and also what goals I want to achieve in life. So, for those of you reading and are just beginning their adventure abroad, just know that even if I had known how hard it would be to leave it all behind, I wouldn't trade anything for any of it. If I could choose, I would still gladly choose to repeat it all again in a heartbeat!
Studenter som kommer till Sverige