Leaving is not only about leaving – the life of an exchange student


Exchange student junior Maria Bueno wears her Rotary blazer.

Going on an exchange can seem like a pretty crazy idea. Spending a whole year in a country that is not your own, living with a host family you have never met before and know nothing about, speaking a language that is not your home language and being away from everyone and everything you know is scary for most people. But this idea has always excited me. My heart always beat faster when I thought about crossing the world and creating deeper connections. Before I left my hometown in Southern Brazil to live a year in Austin, Texas, I did not know what was waiting for me. But, regardless of what would happen, I knew it was going to be the best experience of my life.


Since I was a little kid, I’ve always felt like the whole world was my home. I’ve always felt the necessity of going to new places, exploring different cultures and meeting new people. Going on an exchange is way more than just getting to live in another country for a year. It’s creating lifetime bonds with people from all over the world even though you have nothing in common; it’s living astonishing and extraordinary adventures; it’s challenging your fear of change and opening yourself to the world. And what a beautiful world we live in.


The SCRYE (South Central Rotary Youth Exchange) Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from Jan. 27-29, was, for sure, one of the best weekends of my life. I had the opportunity to meet exchange students from over 30 different countries and share with them my daily life in the United States. It was exciting meeting people just like me and seeing how their experiences have been different than mine. One of the greatest traditions of the Rotary Youth Exchange is the students’ blazer and the exchange of pins. People give other exchange students pins representing their country and, at the end, cover their blazers in pins and patches. Even after your exchange is over, your blazer is a daily reminder of all your experiences and adventures abroad.


Going away is hard most of the time, even for the most passionate travelers. But it is also necessary. Being distant from my family, friends, and the place I grew up in helped me develop a different perspective of the world and see the people that surround me in a different way. It made me realize how the little things in life are the most important and memorable ones, even though we are not always aware of it. I grew up as an individual, made unique friends from Turkey all the way to Lithuania, and found out I was more independent than I had ever imagined. But, more than anything, I found myself.