For anyone who stumbles upon this from the AFS blog while attempting to decide whether or not to go on an exchange program, do it. And for any parent attempting to decide whether or not to let your child go away for a year (or a semester), let them. Going away like that was the best thing I've ever done, period.
10 months sounds like a long time when you're thinking about it, but it really does fly by. You may not notice it every day, but it builds up. You'll be thinking about how slowly this first week seems to be going, how it feels like you've been here for so much more than a month, and then all of the sudden you're having a going away party and getting on an airplane to go back to that place you left just 10 short months ago.
But in those 10 short months you learn more than you could ever learn in 10 months at high school. 10 months in France taught me how to be confident when confidence is far away. 10 months in France taught me how to blend in when I stood out more than anyone else. 10 months taught me how to fall in love with a culture, a landscape, a family.
Coming back, there was no more separation between who I was and who I wanted to be. I knew that I truly could become anyone I wanted to, and that I had already become someone I could be proud of and happy with. I knew that I was capable of amazing things, and I knew that I had already accomplished more than I could have ever dreamed of. I knew that no matter what life threw at me I could somehow manage to find my way.
I miss everyone there. They took me in, made me a part of their life, and in turn they became a part of mine. No matter how far away I go, no matter how long it takes me to see them again, I know that the impact they've had on my life will stay with me forever. In 10 months I made real friends, the kind I thought it took years and years to make. I gained brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, when I thought I was far away from everyone I loved.
I plan on traveling the world. During my upcoming gap year I want to immerse myself again, in a totally different environment, and see more of this beautiful planet. I want to try new things, meet new people, and hopefully change my life (and the lives of those around me) for the better. AFS took my interest in world cultures and turned it into a passion, and now it's up to me to take that passion and turn it into a life. Who knows where it'll take me, but I can assure you that where ever it does I'll be diving in without hesitation.
Until we meet again,