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Exchange is Like... A Pair of Pants?
By Karla, YES Abroad 2014-15, Oman
I feel like this is the point in my exchange where I'm supposed to start reflecting, and I'm honestly not sure how to begin. My internal monologue lately looks a lot like "Study for exams! But don't forget to do your capstone! Oh, also remember that you need to be handling your life back home - lots of things are waiting for you! DO NOT PANIC," and I don't think it's been exactly conducive to a stress free environment for beginning to wrap up my year of exchange. And to clarify, by "wrap up" I don't mean like a present, all pretty with a bow on top, because that isn't what exchange looks like. My exchange looks more like a pair of pants from the Souq - the hemline is pretty wonky and there is no label to tell you how to put them on, the fabric is a little off and the cut is weird on just about anyone... But they're comfortable, and even if they don't fit perfectly, you love them.
Thinking back, nothing this year has happened the way I expected it to - and I'm sure that in the next two months I'll be facing many more surprises. And I won't say it's all been good, because nothing ever is, and for me to lie like that would be dishonest and devaluing of this year. Because it hasn't been easy. It hasn't all been buttercups and rainbows and frolics in a meadow. But the beauty of exchange is that all through the roughest moments I am able to tell myself that I can get through it, because I've made it this far, and I know I have the momentum to keep going. And eventually, whether it's days or weeks after I have triumphed over something - whether it's a test, or a personal issue, or a fear - I get to discover within myself what I have gained from the experience.
But this year has also been completely downright beautiful. There have been moments in which I have had epiphanies about myself - my goals and dreams revealed to me in the sifting sands of the desert, or experienced the mental "click" that makes actions and words suddenly slip into logical place. The memories I have made this year will last me a lifetime, and the growth I have sustained will forever be a part of me. YES Abroad is about gaining a cultural understanding - but in order to understand a culture you must first understand yourself. And that, I believe, is something I have begun to do.
And so this reflection is not only for me. It is for the people wondering what it is like to live abroad. It is for the family and friends and teachers who supported and helped me to get here, so that you can see that I have truly appreciated this experience. It is for the other girls who are here with me, and for the girls who will be here next year.
I have no idea what I'm doing. I plunged headfirst into this exchange about 8 months ago with not a single clue of what I would actually be experiencing, and I've continued to do just that for my entire time in Oman. The only thing that has changed is my newfound ability to make educated guesses at a situation's outcome - allowing me to make better choices for myself as I go.
But I guess what I am really trying to say is this:
I left the United States as a girl who thought she was brave and special because she was going away. I arrived in Oman so excited to be immersed in foreign culture that I didn't know which way I ought to look first, and I invariably tripped over myself in the process of trying to assimilate. I made lifelong friends in the girls who came here with me, and in them I found traces of the people we would all shape ourselves to be - the person I wanted to be. I turned 16 in Oman surrounded by people I love and memories I will keep forever, and I am not the same.
Exchange changes you. It is not good, it is not bad, it is just different. You live a different life, with different people, in a different place for one year, and you become a different person. The process of accepting that new version of yourself is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of it, as far as I can tell, and I am hopeful that in the months to come I will be able to fully understand all of the wonderful things that Oman has done for me.