My first trip out of Alaska, and I couldn’t believe where I was: on the other side of the globe, in a completely foreign land. From the moment I stepped off the plane and into my new life in Poland, I knew I was in for a difficult year. I didn’t understand any words except, “Where is the toilet?” and the numbers one through eight, plus a few colors. Many times during the next few months I would be asking myself, “Why would I want to do a crazy thing like this?” Every time I asked this, echoes returned back to me, as if to say the answer was right in front of me. All along I knew I’d love it, I knew I had wanted a change of scenery, to get away from it all back home, to see more of the world.
Going on foreign exchange to Poland was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. I loved it, and I got a fantastic change of scenery. I saw so much of the world, more than most people I know have seen in their lifetime. Those first few mumbled words in Polish founded a much better vocabulary that grew until I could hold decent conversations. Plus, now that it’s over, I can accept and tolerate things back home much easier. My views of the world are so much more extensive today. I now know that I don’t need dozens of friends to be happy. I am perfectly happy with the handful of friends I have, because no one could ask for better friends.
The best choice I made while in Poland was to take part of the Euro-Tour, organized by the Rotary International Youth Exchange program. That trip took a bus full of some of the best friends a girl could ask for all around Europe. We started in Amsterdam, and saw Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Monaco, Rome, and many more exciting and historical locations in between. I saw things I had only read about in war novels and history books. I saw the famous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps from World War II, during the March of the Living memorial walk between the two camps. I saw the devastation of the Pompeii ruins, caused by Mount Vesuvius, from both inside the ancient city and from the top of the volcano. While being jam-packed together inside that tour bus, I learned a lot about myself. I started to realize how much I had changed from that small-town Alaskan girl into a worldwide explorer.
Most importantly, what I learned about myself, during this huge leap in life, is about mistakes. I learned how to be more accepting of mistakes, whether I am the one making them or not. Most people make a mistake and make a big deal out of it. I would get down on myself and call myself stupid. That was the old me. Now I can look back on my mistakes, say, “Never again,” and walk away thinking more positively. I’m always learning more about myself, as well as constantly improving myself.
Without this foreign experience, without those 10 months of being 8000 miles away from everything I’d ever known, without that need for independence, and without Rotary International giving me the opportunity to do all these things, I don’t think I’d be half the person I am today. Nearly every aspect of my being has improved in some way, shape, or form, from my experiences, and I would recommend this experience to anyone and everyone from the bottom of my heart.
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