I have always had this burning ball of curiosity. What would it be like to understand a language other than my own? I wondered about the people I would know if only I possessed the capability to communicate with them. My curiosity had made me very disheartened by the mere thought of all of the different people in the world, unable to converse and coexist with the millions of other inhabitants of the same globe. There is more to the world than this place I call home, and when I got the chance to become an exchange student to QuerÃ©taro, MÃ©xico, I wasn’t about to let this golden opportunity slip through my hands. There is a zealous youth exchange program called Rotary Club International, and only through them did I embark on an eleven-month journey destined to change my life forever.
Having thought back on all of the meetings, the Rotary Club dinners and get-togethers designed to prepare me for my time abroad, I realized one thing in particular. Nothing could have prepared me for this. “What am I thinking?” I’d often asked myself. “I must be crazy. I don’t speak Spanish. I will never know where the bathroom is or what medicines to take when I get sick. What if my host family doesn’t like me?” and the most infamous thought ever to haunt any exchange student’s mind, “What if I miss my family too much?” There was no going back. I had a team of the most supportive people, and on August 5th of 2006, I hugged them goodbye as I anxiously boarded the plane.
There was an elderly man who sat next to me collectively reading a newspaper. I grew jealous of his composure as this was the first time I’d been airborne.
The sliding doors opened to the mass of people waiting for those who had just landed. Countless signs with names held high and only one for me, “Welcome to Mexico Sarah”.
My wits were truly put to the test once I’d arrived in Mexico City. Conversations were not making sense anymore. The Spanish classes I’d taken seemed futile. This was the real thing, and in the real world people don’t speak like they do in textbooks.
I bent down to hug my host sister who is just a year younger than I am. I towered over her as well as my new mother. I never did find shoes big enough to fit my feet!
For the next few months I practiced the art of miming. I asked about everything I knew; questioned everything I didn’t. I was making a new friend daily, and everyone wanted to know all about me. Within six months I’d become fluent enough to pick up on my brother’s sense of sarcasm, my host sister’s goofiness and my parent’s loving nature, although hiccups were inescapable. One time I asked my host mother to look at my new underwear, as I pointed down to my socks.
For eleven months I’d kept a journal, and my final entry sums up the trip in its entirety. “It all went so amazingly well, yet so amazingly quickly. I feel ready to go yet ready to stay. Soon I’ll wake up in my own room, like waking from a dream. What a beautiful dream it has been. Everything at home will be as I left it, and that will be quite strange, because I am not. Mixing the old with the new may be hard at first, but out of that mixture I will find the perfect one. The one mixture made to be me.”
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