Exactly 10 years ago I was arriving in Winnipeg. I was only a teenage girl leaving my family and friends behind, on the search for new adventures. I was leaving a different life in Brazil, and I was open-minded to begin a new one in Canada, where I would live for almost 1 year, studying high school and learning English.
After almost 20 hours traveling, I arrived at the airport of Winnipeg, on September 4th, 2004. I will never forget the exact moment when I saw my homestay family waiting for me, smiling and giving me hugs, nor our drive from the airport to my new home. How could I? It was time of changes, so much that at first I didn’t realize the mark it would leave in my life.
Everything was new, my house, my room, my family, the food, the school, the friends, the teachers, the language, the country. In the beginning it all felt too much, too different, until it became normal, especial; my new life. Some days it hurt to be away from home, but with time, it felt right, and I often thought how amazing it is to live in other countries, how essential is for a human being to learn about other people’s society, the way they live, and to respect it.
I struggled, but I learned English, and look what I am doing now, writing this story in a language I never thought I would learn back when I was only 16 years old. I failed Math, and got great marks in Canadian History, Arts and Hairstyling. I learned the Canadian Anthem – in English and in French for that matter – I gained some pounds, I went to parties, I felt cold – really really cold – I fell on the ice, I cried, I laughed, I learned, I made friends for the rest of my life, I fell in love, and I lived every single day as if it was the last one.
The thing of an exchange program is that it makes you grow up, to become mature, maybe in a pace so fast that you can’t notice it by yourself. It gives you freedom to be who you really want to be, to discover yourself, to see the World and not only YOUR World, it also teaches you that goodbye is a real painful thing, and that no one can take away from you the moments you lived and the memories you’ve made.
My exchange year in Canada left a mark on my heart, it taught me that I should always cherish each day, even when it’s bad, it made me who I am today, a traveler, a citizen of the World. When it was over, I knew I would never be the same young girl I was when I left home, what I didn’t know was that I would remember it everyday for the rest of my life.
Canada is a part of my life since then, today the memories are as vivid as they were 10 years ago. I regret though, I regret complaining about the language, the cold, the city… but I am happy I regret that, it just means it was especial, it was worth it. And if you ask me if I would do it again, I say yes, I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t done it.
There is one thing I didn’t learn with my exchange year in Canada: to say goodbye. And that I knew the moment I had to say goodbye to my friends, and when I saw tears in the eyes of my homestay family. I guess we aren’t supposed to learn that, this way we appreciate moments and people, and that’s what makes them become part of our hearts.
It is with great love that I thank here my homestay family for accepting me into their home between September 2004 and June 2005: you made my year complete and gained a very especial place in my heart and in my memory. You became my family, and it makes me happy to keep in touch with you and to see the progress of each one of you. I will always miss you.
To my dear friends who made part of my journey when we were all in the same situation, facing the same difficulties and changes, growing up and learning together: each one of you made this year even more especial and unforgettable, I couldn’t have done it without you, and I will never forget what I’ve learned with you and the moments we shared together.
For those of you embarking into this experience remember:
You will never be the same, enjoy intensely and be prepared for when it’s over, but be sure of one thing: you will miss these days everyday of your life.
Have you ever been an exchange student? Where did you go? How was it? If you are going to be one soon, where are you going? What are your expectations? Your experiences are very welcome and I would love to hear from you…