“Guten Tag!” My ears perked up at the unfamiliar sound. The stewardess’ welcoming words, her lips painted the color of adventure, made my heart quiver with anticipation. “It’s really happening.” I wiped some tears off my jawline, leftover from parting with my old life. The awkward-looking man seated next to me gave me a double-take. Perhaps it was the fact that I was smiling so manically, or perhaps it was because I was wearing a blue blazer five sizes too large on me. I peered over his shoulder at the German novel he was reading. I did not understand one word of it. “This is it.” I thought. My life begins as of now.” The seatbelt sign illuminated and the non-stop flight to Düsseldorf took off. I was finally an exchange student.
Over the next ten months I would experience laughter, love, friendship, death, humility, and self-awareness. I would learn how other people live and how other people think we live. I would learn what “frühstück” and “currywurst” are and learn to like it. I would prove other people wrong and have other people prove me wrong. (A lot.) I would learn German from scratch and earn respect from native-speakers. I would make best friends from all over the globe from Cecil Peña in Chile to Ko Yu Tsai in Taiwan. I would experience the loss of one of those friends, Tomi Savari of Argentina, whom we all mourned together. I would say hello and say (too many) goodbyes.
I took a big bite out of the forbidden fruit that is long-distance romance. I danced the Brazilian samba while singing a French “chanson.” I hiked in the caves of the Swiss Alps and took a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. On the same day. However, I learned how to live with minimal help, biking anywhere I wanted to go and cooking myself dinner. I went from thinking I understood almost everything, to knowing I understand almost nothing.
Now I sit here and write this essay in a world where everything, yet nothing is the same. Four months ago I packed away all my memories and adventures into two suitcases and returned to my “other” life. I left my best friends in Germany to return to my best friends in America. I went from eating “frühstück” to selling it at my local bakery. I went from looking at things in my little bubble to stepping outside of its soapy walls. The time that has passed since the end of my exchange has been a quest to find my place between these two worlds. That’s when I realized: my place in the world is everywhere and college is my next destination. And as much as I will hold these memories close to my heart, something new is growing inside of me; it’s the future, and it beckons.