Yesterday was a big day for me. It reminded me of how much, yet how little time I have left in Minnesota, until I begin my exchange year in Spain. Yesterday, I had 30 days left in Minnesota. Today, I have 29. That number will keep getting smaller and smaller until it reaches zero and I am waking up, getting ready and heading to the airport for my first of three flights to Pamplona, Spain. In 29 days, I will leave everything I know, love and cherish, behind. I will start a new chapter of my life, in a new country, with new people who will become some of my family and friends.
People often ask me if I am excited, and then quickly follow that up with something along the lines of "And probably a little nervous too, am I right?" Usually, I just smile, and say, "Yes, I am excited, but also a little nervous too." And they smile, satisfied with my answer, and proceed to ask other questions about my exchange or just start a completely new, different conversation. Most people just accept my answer and move on. But the thing is, that answer that I give everyone, is a lie. The truth is, I am not just excited. I am also terrified. Sometimes, I lie awake at night, not able to sleep because I am so scared about what the future brings and what it could mean for me. There have been nights when I have gone to bed at 11:30pm and not fallen asleep until 4am, but only because at that point, I am so exhausted that I have no other choice, but to sleep. I try and play it cool, act like I am simply excited and have no worries or fears whatsoever, but that's not true. Traveling internationally, on my own, into and through airports to which I have never been to before, terrifies me. Not being able to express myself to the fullest extent because of language barriers, terrifies me. Walking into an unknown school and not knowing anyone, or how things work, terrifies me. Pretty much any and all aspects of my exchange year terrify me. But in the end, I am also so excited that all I want to do is rush out of my house, jump on a plane and start my exchange right this very moment because I know that my exchange year will be one of the best, if not the best, year of my life.
When I first found out that I had been accepted as a Rotary International Exchange Student for the 2017-2018 exchange year, I was ecstatic. I had just come home from school, after not having a particularly good day, and then my dad walked into my room and asked if I had seen the envelope that he was holding in his hand. I hadn't, so he handed it to me without saying a word. The envelope was addressed to me and had the North Star Youth Exchange logo in the top. At first, I didn't want to open it because part of me knew that whatever it held inside, had the power to change my life forever. After a few minutes, I looked up at my dad and asked if I could open it. Part of me was wishing that he said no, to wait until my mom got home and then I could open it. But, he didn't. So, I nervously opened it and pulled out the letter inside. Before I could even begin to start reading it, the word "Spain" jumped off the page in big, bolded, and italicized red letters with an exclamation point at the end, like so... Spain! As excited as I was, I was unsure how to react. So, I just sat there, read the rest of the letter and smiled, then handed it back to my dad, who read it himself. I am sure that he made some sort of joke along the lines of "Congrats, but we've changed our minds and decided that you don't get to go." But honestly, to this day, I am still not entirely sure what happened after I handed the letter back to my dad, because everything seemed hazy and I felt like I was in my own little world, with so many emotions swirling around inside my head. I don't remember much else, besides the fact that I was ecstatic and couldn't wait to tell everyone.
As time passed, the fact that I was going to be spending a year abroad in Spain, seemed like just something I said. It never felt real. It just felt like something that I said, but wasn't really true, or would ever be true. To tell the truth, it didn't even start to feel real when I was at the Spanish Consulate in Chicago to apply for my visa. Even now, it doesn't feel real. I don't know if it ever will.
I have done so much to prepare, yet I still feel so unprepared. I have spent hours researching Pamplona and Spain, hours that I probably should've spent doing my homework. I have made arrangements for my school credits to transfer back so that I don't have to repeat a year of high school. I researched and bought suitcases, luggage accessories, computer accessories, travel gear, pins and buttons to trade with other exchange students, etc. I applied for my visa, and made countless packing and "to do" lists. I have even packed and unpacked my suitcases with everything that I will be taking with me to Spain. I have done so much, yet it feels like I am back at square one, with the deadline looming just around the corner.
“”In 29 days, I will have reached a point in my life that will cause me to change forever. When I return to the United States after spending a year abroad in Spain, I will be a completely different person than who I am now, but that is okay.