This month I got to meet with a bunch of people from back home. Specifically, my two best friends and my family. I was excited and scared at the same time, waiting in a Starbucks in Bruxelles like I was some sort of rom-com character played by Zooey Deschanel. It’s funny because three months is a very short period of time, especially if compared to the nearly twenty years I spent with these people. But in these two months, I’ve been through so much, seen so many things and just learned to live a complete new normality, while those familiar faces were starting to slightly fade from my memory. But then I hugged them, one by one, on different days and different cities and realized, in that brief moment, three different things.
The first one is that it’s way easier to leave than to stay. If you’re reading this, chances are you are about to do an exchange and you may be having those twisted thoughts of being alone in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone. But the thing is, you have it way easier than the people you are leaving behind. Imagine them, whether it is your family, or your friends, or even your partner. They are the one left with a gap to fill that is perfectly you-shaped. You, on the other hand, have way too much to fill it up with. New people, new places, new things you have learned. If feels like somebody took three different jigsaw boxes and dumped them on the table in front of you. There are colors and shapes everywhere and frankly way too much to worry about to care about that one piece that ended up under the sofa.
Number two, time is a weird thing. Three months is a long time and a short time at the same time. It is enough to learn your way around the supermarket and the main square, to not be faded by the things that make your friends whip their camera out and to be able to make your new little room pop up into your mind when you say the words ‘I wanna go home’. It is enough for stuff to happen in your hometown. You know, things like that guy cheating on that girl and that girl hooking up with that girl who’s secretly into that guy who’s with that girl. That sort of thing. But it is not even a speck on a 5+ years long friendship. I may be liking new foods now, but I am pretty sure there are only two people in this world I want to ironically watch Fifty Shades Darker with, eating melted ice cream sandwiches. It takes so much time to get that comfortable with someone, it is going to take even more time to break that bond.
Finally, here’s a thing. Exchange is a little bit of a prolonged daydream. You are in this weird situation in which everything is fun and possible, but that is because there is a deadline. I think a lot of people romanticize the country they do their exchange in because they think that that is the reason they had so much fun, whereas it was because we were put in a sort of make pretend situation. This person I am right now, it is not who I am. It is a person that doesn’t really have any consequences to ever face, at least for this remaining two months. There is not a moment in my life in which I am going to have this luxury again, doesn’t matter where I am.
So in conclusion, if you are reading this huddle up in your bed, with your heart racing because you are about to take a plane to somewhere unfamiliar in the world, wondering about what is going to happen, half excited, half scared, this would be my advice to you. Enjoy this weird time as much as you can, and do it without a care in the world, because the people you care about now are going to be waiting for you when you come back.