Posted by Meghan Callender
Hi Tumwater!
This update is a bit different, I wanted to wait to give you a full update in a few weeks, after I've returned from the two week Europe Tour. But because that is a long time between posts, instead I thought I would share this essay with all of you that I have been asked to write on exchange. I hope you all like it. 

How the Exchange Experience Has Changed Me

Meghan Callender

USA- The Netherlands 17/18


Not to sound cliche, but I honestly do not know where to start. What a loaded topic. I mean, how didn’t the exchange experience change me? To start, I must say that in no way is a single essay a worthy format for trying to explain the absolutely life changing essense of exchange, nor will any words properly fit together to convey how I feel about it, but if exchange has taught me anything, I have to at least try. When I think back to the months before exchange, or to my first month here, it seems absolutely surreal. I want to say I am a different person, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I’m not a different person. I’m just a more filled out and honest version of my truest self.


Before exchange, I’d always felt like I was pretty good at being myself. I mean, you don’t go on exchange if you’re not comfortable making your own decisions, despite the thoughts and opinions of others. But I think that’s part of why new exchange students thrive so well when they are first placed in their new environment. I spent 17 years of my life in the same 10 mile radius. Same school district, same church, same friends. Olympia, I love you, but let’s be real, most people don’t marry their high school sweethearts. I didn’t realize it until I had left, but a lot of me and my personality was living for others. I was myself, on other people’s terms. There was no room or time for growth. That was who I was, it was who everyone else knew me as, and I had to keep up with those expectations. But then suddenly, I’m in a foreign country, and nobody even knows my name. Nobody knows anything about me, and I call that a grand opportunity. What this exactly meant was not yet clear to me when I first arrived on exchange, but it slowly became clearer to me as the weeks passed on. I got to be me! Really me. Me with no expectations. I stopped caring what other people thought. If someone doesn’t like me, so what, I don’t care, I like me.  And that is absolutely freeing, mostly because I realized the me that I was becoming, was not who I was. It’s way better. Out of everything I’ve learned this year, this is first and foremost the most important and valuable lesson.


Harvard University says that the one thing everyone needs in life, is that those satisfied with their relationships lead happier and healthier lives. I would have to agree, and I can’t think of a better way to test relationships than to travel across the globe for a year. I left Washington with a handful of friends, some I had known almost my whole life, some I’d only known for a few years, I had best friends, and more casual friends. In the end none of that mattered, I lost friends from every category, and, I’m glad. As those people exited my life, they took with them a large amount of negativity. And those who stayed, filled those empty spaces with so much love and support, that there was absolutely no space to dwell on the past. And as I made friends throughout my exchange, I realized I had none of the problems I had had in those previous relationships. I wasn’t going to bother with people who weren’t going to support me, who weren’t going to be honest with me, who weren’t going to love me for me. And that needs to come from both sides. When I put my honest and open self into new relationships, people are more willing to give that back, and that is what leads to much deeper, stronger bonds. This also takes a role in the relationship I share with my parents. Being away from my parents so long, having them replaced with new foreign parents, it showed me how amazing mine really are. It made me grateful for all the tough love, and made me miss the things I previously found annoying. Because mostly, they were right, and it’s easy for me to see now that everything they do and say is out of pure love. Nobody loves me the way my parents do. Now when I look around at the relationships in my life, there is nothing but positivity and love.


Exchange has aged me. They say everyone has a year that ages them 30 years, is it a bit premature if I say that now? I can’t say it was easy. There was times I experienced record lows, and had you offered me a flight ticket home that day, I can’t say I would have said no. When there was nobody who could quite understand, all the times I was painfully reminded that I wasn’t from this place. But that made the highs so much sweeter. The times when the connections were so real I could almost see them, the times I laughed so hard I cried, or when I stared in absolute awe at beautifully foreign views. I learned how to appreciate it all. Absolutely everything is a learning experience, and everyone has something to teach you. The world is a different place to me now. In some senses, the world is huge, but more often than not, the world is a whole lot smaller than I thought. I met people from all over the world this year, and what surprised me the most was just how similar we all were. Sure, we all have different ways of holding our utensils, our clothes may look strange, or our accents sound a bit funny, but when it really matters, we are all the same.


This year I learned how to take chances. I learned how to communicate in a deeper sense, how to become more observant, how to learn from my mistakes, and how to be responsible for myself and others. I changed the way I look at the everyday, the way I perceive the future, and the way I learn from the past. I learned a new language. I know how to fully navigate public transportation, and can even bike with no hands. I have a more concrete idea of what I want to do with my life after high school, and what I need to do to get there. I learned not to take life so seriously. This year gave me everything I could have hoped for. It taught me the things I wanted to learn, and it taught me the things I didn’t know that I needed to learn. In all these words, I am still sat here struggling to perfectly describe an indescribable experience.



Meghan Callender