Exchange student reflects on her year in Austin, going back home

Saying goodbye is no easy job. After almost 10 months of living abroad, the moment I’ve been avoiding is imminent: going home. And the expression “going home” never sounded so strange. After all, what is home? If you had asked me this question a year ago, I wouldn’t hesitate to say home is Londrina, the city I was born and raised in. But, right now, no matter how much I look for it, I can’t find words to describe what this really means to me. Instead, I look back to these past 10 months, and all the places I’ve been, the moments I’ve lived, the memories I’ve made, the people I’ve met, and I’m sure of one thing: home is not a place. It stopped being a place the moment I stepped on an airplane on a Wednesday afternoon, uncertain of what my life would look like for the next year, kind of scared, kind of excited, but ready for whatever would come.

Being an exchange student is not always a bed of roses, as many people may imagine. Yes, there are all the amazing things that involve meeting new people and going to nice places. But being completely on your own in a different country can be hard and, at times, lonely. We all know teenagers can be mean and selfish and not very welcoming when a new student comes around. The language barrier is just another problem that adds to it. If making friends can already be very hard, imagine trying to do it in another language. It was challenging, of course, but I was able to make some good friends that made a huge difference in my year.

As difficult as it was for me, being an exchange student taught me a lot of things I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn in other circumstances. I was alone for the first time in my life. Completely alone. Everyone who could possibly care about me was thousands of miles away. And it wasn’t that bad. I mean, I made it. I’m still here. Acknowledging that you can be by yourself and still feel good and complete is one of the best feelings in life.

Going on an exchange is scary. Walking away into the unknown is frightening; you never know what you are going to find. But what I was most afraid of was that I would fall in love with whatever I’d find. Because, as everything good in the world, this too would have an end. And, right now, this end is closer than ever. Millions of questions run through my head: “What’s going to happen now?” “Will I ever see these people again?” “Will they remember me after I leave?” It comes to my mind that all these moments will soon be just memories. And, even though I can always come back and visit Austin and all the people I met here, I will never again be a 17-year-old on her first trip alone, finding friends, adventure, freedom, but, most importantly, finding myself.