Countdown to departure: 84 days (Assuming I leave September 1st)
This weekend I attended my pre-departure orientation. Actually, I attended my second pre-departure orientation. Why did I attend two? Where were they? What the heck is a pre-departure orientation? Read on to find out! (See that, that's called a cliff hanger. You could stop reading now, but you'd never know the full story. And why would you want to put yourself through that?)
A pre-departure orientation (PDO) is exactly what the name would suggest. The PDO is an orientation that happens before one goes on their AFS exchange, and it is a chance for volunteers, returnees, sendees, hosted AFSers, and parents to meet and prepare for an exchange. It is required that you attend one, but it's not a burden or anything. The PDO really helps shed light upon the exchange process and prepares you for a safe and meaningful adventure.
The first PDO I went to was for the Baltimore Area AFSers and was held at Goucher College. It started at 9:00 AM, but luckily included breakfast! There were some opening remarks by volunteers and and a professor at Goucher who had done an AFS exchange as a teen, and once they were finished we broke into small groups. In the groups (which included parents) we discussed our goals and anxieties surrounding the exchange. Then we regrouped, with parents in one room and exchangers in another. Once regrouped, we broke into groups of 6-7 and acted out little scenarios of tough situations in order to make sure we knew how to be safe. My group included a girl going to Austria, a girl going to Peru, another girl going to France, a returnee from Thailand, a girl here from Egypt, and a girl here from the Philippines. It was really fun. However, I had to leave early to sing at graduation (congratulations class of 2009!).
Since I hadn't completed an entire PDO, I had to attend another one last weekend. This one was held at the 4-H conference center in Chevy Chase because it was for the DC area. This one started at 12:30 PM, and had snacks rather than full meals. I came in to a rousing game of "AFS Bingo", which was used to get to know the people around you. After it all settled down, we listened to a speaker (a former AFSer) and discussed what AFS is and is not (it is a chance to broaden you horizons, it is not a vacation). Then the parents left for another room and the sendees, returnees, and hosted students stayed as a group. We talked about what they called "The W".
"The W" goes something like this: You start off on a "sugar high". You're the new kid, you get attention, you're doing new things, it's all good. Then you slip into culture shock. You don't know anyone, you don't speak the language, your novelty is wearing off, and you're miserable. Then you go into recovery as you make friends and learn the language. Before you know it, you're coming home. You're back on your "sugar high". You're gonna see everyone back home, you're a novelty again, you get lots of attention, and all seems good. Then you slip into reverse culture shock. Things have changed, you have changed, you feel out of place, and people grow tired of your stories. Then you go back up in recovery, as you reintegrate into society. (It was layed out on a graph by emotion, making a W).
After discussing "the W", we broke into groups of three to once again do danger scenarios. My group had a girl going to Iceland and a guy going to Switzerland. After the danger scenarios, everyone regrouped and we watched a video called "One Word". You should watch it, too! Not only is it really fun (at least, I think so), it also shows what an exchange is like (kind of...):
Afterwards, I got a snazzy AFS bag and a yellow luggage tag, which is AFS's "thing" and makes me really happy to look at. I also learned that a language barrier will not keep you from having a great exchange. One of the volunteers said she went to Belgium knowing only 3 words of French: Oui (yes), non (no), and quoi (What?). She told us how someone would ask her a question, and she would say "Oui". If they gave her a strange look she would try "Non". If that didn't work, she would be like "Quoi?". So now I'm feeling more confident about my language skills, not in the sense that I know enough, but rather that I can learn and will have a great an amazing experience in the mean time (although thankfully I know more than 3 words =) ).
The entire PDO process just made my exchange so much more real, and now I'm full of conflicting emotions. I'm really, incredibly, indescribably excited, but at the same time also really, incredibly, indescribably scared. Hopefully I'll figure it out before I leave =)