di Giulia Zanin

It almost feels AS if it was just yesterday when I was on my own, on a plane not really knowing what to expect but excited for what the future had IN STORE for me. Now I HAVE BEEN back AT home since last June, with a ton of memories, e-mails to answer and a lot of stories to share. I don’t even know where to start now that I’m writing about my experience of being an exchange student in Cypress, Texas for a whole school year.

I was an “exchange student” but I didn’t believe the power of being one until last year. After my own experience I now believe that exchange students can help change some of the assumptions and preconceived ideas in their societies because people are more likely to accept the change from within their society rather than from outside. That is why I strongly believe that an exchange student’S experience is one of the most powerful ONES, both for the student and the people around HIM OR HER, and it is a way to promote human beings and ABATE differences between cultures.

I was placed as I said in Texas with a great host family and they treated me like their own, opening up their home and their hearts to a complete stranger. I went to an American high school and that was a big adjustment for me because school there is completely different from here. I have never met so many different kinds of people in just one place.

I was scared during the first days of school, I didn’t know anyone, I got lost many times since the school was huge, and I didn’t really know how to speak English. I loved ANSWERING people’s questions throughout all my year, like “Where is Italy?”, “Isn’t that near Africa somewhere?” or “Do you have cars in Italy?” or even “Have you ever seen a dog before?” I loved to share with people about my culture and habits here in Italy.

I had the chance to travel a lot during my year, I went to South Dakota during THE Christmas break, to South Carolina to visit a friend in spring and to Florida. I made a lot of friends from all over the world and met so many people. I played in the Volleyball Team of my school during winter and WAS PART OF THE Girls Track Team during summer. I volunteered with my group of exchange students in different activities, from FILLING the lines of soup kitchens, to LOOKING AFTER old people in nursing homes. I was lucky enough to see the true diversity of the world’s biggest “melting pot”.

Everyone was really nice to me and I would say that as much as I missed my family and friends at home, I never really got homesick because all my American friends made sure I was okay. Being away for ten months and living alone in a completely different world has taught me a lot of things. Being thousands of miles away from home was not always easy. Like everything in life, my experience had its ups but also ITS downs. The hard times helped me grow up and move away from my comfort zone to gain maturity and independence. I have grown a lot and my perspective has changed in ways that I would have never imagined. I now can say that I appreciate my family and what I have at home more, I have an open mind and I’m more confident about myself. It was for sure the best time of my life and I will always remember how choosing to go AWAY and discover what the world had in store for me was life-changing and I will always be proud of the decision that I made.

I know I was one of the lucky few to live overseas for a year, and I would recommend this experience to everyone. If I could start all over again, I would do it AGAIN ALSO today, I miss everything about my American life. When I came home I felt I had seen America’s true face and heart, America is my second home and when I think about it I can’t help BUT get emotional. The things I’ve learned will stay with me forever and my belief in cultural exchange will never leave me. This is how we can really know about others.