“Why are you going on an exchange?”
“Why are you leaving for 1 year?”
“Won’t you miss your family?”
“Aren’t you scared?”
Those questions are some I hear over and over, yet a quick answer of, “It’s my dream.” Isn’t good enough, so here’s the real answer.
We all have dreams. Some dreams come true, others don’t. It’s up to you if your dreams come true or not. My dream is to travel the world. Cliche. But not just to travel the world to say I’ve done it, but to experience the good and bad sights, the long and short plane rides, the rude and nice people, and the rich and poor countries. Each image that your brain captures while traveling is one that changes your life. You learn from such experiences what the true reality is. That the world is not perfect, people aren’t perfect, and travel isn’t perfect. As many of us are caught up in the lies that social media is telling us, perfect vacations, people, bodies, lives, we forget what the truth is. Traveling opens the passage of truth. Reality. That’s why I chose to go on an exchange. I am prepared for the ups and downs. But at such a young age with hundreds of opportunities ahead, I am more than thankful to be able to accept this challenge.
When I first signed up for Rotary Youth Exchange, I never once thought that it would be real. I had told many people the previous summer that I was going to be going on an exchange, and very few believed me. Many people told me it would never happen, my parents would never allow it. But not one doubt could stop me. I went through many orientations, many questions, especially the famous, “are you sure?”, many papers and many feelings. The best feeling of it all was when I heard my name called. The exchange students who came to New York, stood on the stage holding envelopes, inside were names of the people going to their countries for an exchange. I sat anxiously with my family, waiting for mine to be called. First was Germany, Taiwan, Thailand then Czech Republic. Czech Republic was first on my list, but it was unlikely you were placed in the country that was first on your list. As the girl pulled the name from the envelope, my heart sped up and I took a big breath. “Gabriella”, my name was called and I was in shock, I ran up to the stage and flew my body into hers crying with tears of joy. That moment will never be forgotten. Since then I’ve been learning the language and slowly adding things to my suitcase getting ready to pack it all up.
When it comes to family, I’m very close to my parents and siblings. I tend to think a lot about what could happen when I’m gone, and it scares me. But the support and love that my family has given me throughout the process is unbelievable. I know for sure that I will miss them all very much, I can’t think about the day I will have to say goodbye, but I can think about the day I get to see them again. And it will be amazing.
As I prepare for departure I think. And think. And think some more. Is this the right decision? Is it worth leaving my life for 1 year to create a new one? Of course it is. Many people have told me I’m crazy, insane, brave, even inspiring. And yes, I am crazy, insane, quite brave and I hope I inspire those who have a dream like mine. One year is a long time, yet it is only one year out of your entire life. Life is short and each amazing opportunity you get, you should take. If you want something bad enough, nothing can get in your way. And that’s how I feel about travel. It’s my passion, my dream. Rotary has given me this amazing opportunity and no matter how scared I may be, there’s no chance I’ll turn it down.
15 years old. One year without my parents, siblings, relatives, friends. At the moment, it seems ok. But I know that when I’m gone it’ll be different. The feelings that I will experience while I’m on exchange will forever change my life. I get to meet incredible people, make friends for life, experience a totally different culture and language. No matter the trip, if it’s perfect, horrible, unexpected or crazy, I know that it will prepare me for what life offers. So why am I going on an exchange for 1 year? Because why not.
Above is a picture in NYC with me and all of the previous exchange students who came to my district in New York. (October 2017) I can confidently say that most of them are my close friends now and I’ll be visiting them in their home countries while I’m abroad!:)