EXCHANGE YEAR: EXPECTATIONS AND REALITY.


Before going on exchange everyone hopes for the best, but how can we really define what best is? Well, I was hoping to go on exchange somewhere close to a big city, just because I grew up in one. Although, I would have been okay living in a smaller place than my own because when I decided to go abroad I also agreed to be flexible and embrace diversity rather than familiarity.

My kind of expectations.

My first desire was to be placed somewhere near New York because it has always been my dream city. I've seen it in movies, all over the internet, in paintings and what not. I was (and still am) a bit obsessed with it. I'd have loved to be placed in a big house, like one of the movies, with lots of neighbors and a welcoming family. I was dreaming of soft white snow falling throughout Christmas break and lights all over the neighborhood. The school I was hoping for was quite big, with a strong consideration for the Arts, High School Musical type of institution basically and nice school bus rides to go on. I was wishing to be able to be in a place with at least a minor transportation system because my independence wasn’t really something I was ready to give up.


What my exchange was actually like.

To start off, I was placed in Colorado which is great because, eventually, it was one of my choices. I lived one hour away from Denver, which is a big city. However, I only went there maybe three times because public transportation here in the West is pretty much inexistent. I loved my home and the people I lived with, which is eventually what every exchange student hopes for. The town was actually quite boring, and even in the city itself, there was little public transportation. I had to rely on others to get to places, which was quite annoying. I was independent for a lot of things but dependent for a few as well. My school was pretty small too, I believe my senior class was composed of less than one hundred students. The arts had their weight but the auditorium was quite small and so was the number of people interested in supporting the plays and shows. 
I did have snow on Christmas day, which was fantastic. Every day during winter break it felt like Christmas because the atmosphere was amazing. I went to Christmas concerts, shows, parties and I was surrounded by lights everywhere I went. We exchanged gifts, watched movies next to the fireplace and had one of the previous exchange students come to visit us.

Deliberation post exchange.

Was my exchange the way I thought it would be? Not entirely. Was it bad? Nope. I think it is understandable that people imagine things before they actually become reality, but I think that it’s safe to say that we need to keep expectations as low as possible so that we don't get disappointed. According to me, our exchange has to be different to whatever we had in mind anyway. It’s more fun. Think about it, would it be really great to know in advance what your experience would be like? There would be no fun because there wouldn't be any discovery to make. Prior to departure, we (might) feel scared, sad, confused. We don't know where we are going, who we are going to live with, we don't know if we will have friends and things to do after school and so on; We are not going to see our family and friends for almost a year. We are going to change and grow without the people who have always been by our side; We basically don't know what we signed up for. Yes, we are going to study abroad, but did we really think about every single aspect of the deal?

This is why I think that exchange students are brave, interesting and open-minded.

- Cris

WHY EXCHANGE RUINED MY LIFE AND WHY I LOVE IT.


I feel extremely grateful because I am writing this blog-post at my American home. It has been three years since the end of my exchange and being back is honestly still quite weird and unbelievable. At the beginning of my new experience here, I was complaining about the fact that it doesn't feel like exchange at all. The reason behind this is that it is not an exchange, and nothing will ever be like it. However, this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the District Conference in Estes Park, Colorado where I hung out with inbounds and Rotex. That was all I wanted to do: being in Colorado and around people from all over the world, once again. It totally felt like nothing changed since 2015.

Despite that, this conference opened up wounds that were never closed in the first place. As I was performing "Love in Any Language", my mind was traveling back to the 2015 Conference in Fort Collins, when I was on stage with my group of friends. The song makes me quite emotional and so you might think that this is why my mind was playing with my feelings, but actually, even doing something as simple as going to the pool or the hot tub with the current exchange students would bring me back to the good old days... I wouldn't change anything about my exchange but if I could go back in time I'd definitely do two things: treat people differently and say "thank you" more often.


Exchange is a fixed period of time during which every single one of us starts from scratch. The only problem is that this awesome experience has an end, just like everything in life, and this is definitely what ruined me. It is difficult for me to acknowledge closure and accept when something is officially over. I might be having the best time and enjoying myself but as soon as that comes to completion, I blast into tears. I get so sad to the point that I wonder whether it was worth it or not. And of course it was. Not just good enough, but beyond excellent.

People might not imagine this because I'm a big guy, but I'm quite sensitive. I detest goodbyes, but that never stopped me from traveling. I'm so grateful to have people in my life that make saying goodbye so hard, and I love Rotary International with whole my heart because I met those people as a result of being part of the Youth Exchange Program. My exchange year might be over, but because of Rotary, I continue to meet incredible people

- Cris

COLLEGE IN EUROPE OR IN THE UNITED STATES?


If you were given the choice of moving to the States for college, what would you do? Would you take it in a heartbeat or would you rather go to Europe? I mean there's a lot of stuff that needs to be considered when it comes to such a big decision. A big thing to focus on is tuition costs, but let's forget about that for now. The two continents are fairly different and it's important to target the things we enjoy and find important doing.

The United States of America.

A lot of people believed and still believe in the American dream. They trust the land of freedom and all of that.  But unless you move to a big city, chances are that you will be living in a small place, you will need a car to get to places and will be spending a lot of time either at home or, again, in the car. Most of my American friends would rather drive through than sit down and enjoy a meal or a coffee. House parties are a big thing, and so is spending time with family.


Europe.

If you go to Europe though, you can pretty much find public transportation everywhere. People like to go for a walk, sit down outdoors, and stuff like that. This doesn't mean that Europeans don't spend time with their families or that they don't drive, but it is different. To be honest I like how everything in Europe is close together. I like being able to reach anything by foot and I like being in crowded places. 

I'm having a great time here in the United States, I've been driving for over two months now, I like the fact that at least now I can get to places (not like when I was on exchange over here), I like the fact that I am not in school but I'm working for a great company and everything, but all of this helped me realize that I also love Europe, there's nothing I can do about it. I love how every country is so close to one another, that it is fairly cheap to travel, that you can reach pretty much anything by walking (grocery stores, pubs, and so on). I love the nightlife, hanging out with friends outdoors and stuff.


An American girl on exchange to Denmark.

Even though I lived in the States as a high school exchange student and as a college intern, I did not experience University there. Therefore, I asked an American friend of mine who studied abroad in Denmark to highlight some of the differences between the two scholastic systems. The first thing she said was that in Denmark everyone actually pulled their weight, and that doesn't really happen in her home University. What was interesting for her is that attendance isn't required in Denmark but it is in the States. As a result, it doesn't really matter if you do your homework in Denmark but you get docked if you don't in the States. The grading system is completely different overseas. In Denmark, only a few tests determine your final grade, in the US it is a lot of little things. In Scandinavia, it is a lot of making yourself learn things. The school gives you the materials but you have to do it. In the US students tend to memorize only the things that will be on the test. As a result, Denmark prepares you better for the real world rather than for a test.

An Italian guy on exchange to California.

To be fair, I also asked a few questions to someone from Europe who studied abroad in California. My friend is Italian and he is studying at the American University in Rome, so that gave him an additional chance of seeing what the main differences between the American and Italian education systems are.  First of all, American Universities tend to have an attendance policy that in Italy is much rarer (that being said, some universities still have it). One of the reasons of why there is an attendance policy is because there are usually daily assignments, presentations, etc. so the students need to be present in class. Conversely, at Italian universities, students are given more independence, in fact, it is up to them to decide whether they want to go to class or prepare for exams by themselves. Furthermore, differently from most Italian universities where the final grade is composed of one exam only, in American universities, the final grade is made up of exams, presentations, and, in some universities, one's in class participation. Another major difference is that in Italy university students have to take both written and oral exams, whereas in the American system, they only have to take written exams.

I'd like to know if there's someone from Europe that would rather go to the USA, and vice versa, who would like to share their own thoughts about this, stating what if most important for them when deciding where to go to college. 

- Cris 

TRAVEL TO FIND OR TO LOSE OURSELVES?


I always cherish my study abroad experiences because they made me who I am today. I love traveling, cultures, languages, photography… I mean, I just love my lifestyle. But when it comes to saying goodbye, to move once again, to leave everything and everyone by saying “I’m not sure if I will ever see you again”, I kind of ask myself if this is all worth it. If it is actually good for me to get close to people and then leave them. If it is fair for me, but also for them. 
I’m extremely grateful that at only 20 years old I lived in four different countries but every single day I miss at least a couple of persons from each place and I feel sad that there’s nothing I can do about it. I can only call them on the phone, and that is only if the time change isn’t wild. Sometimes I even feel like I don’t play a big part in my friends’ lives because whenever it’s time for me to leave, their life will continue to be just the same as always, but mine will reset and start from nothing. Zero. 

Every single thing I do, every single person I meet every day is important to me, but for them, I am probably just someone who happens to be wherever they are at the same time, they already have a life in which I just play the part of an accessory they can live without.


I feel like it’s time for me to take a break; to quit being a nomad and finally find my place in this world. People say that traveling helps to find ourselves, yet I feel completely lost. I’m lost, yes, because I know what I want but I don’t know where I want it. I want to be close to my family, yet the US is the place to be for my career. Although, I loved being in the UK. I even wanted to move to Spain for the summer, but I will definitely not put myself through that if I will have to move again in the fall. 

I wouldn’t change my past because I wouldn’t have met all the people I did meet if it wasn’t for the fact that I traveled so much (just like I said in "Crossing Paths"), but I feel like I need to change. People always tell me that I am brave because I just grab my things and go somewhere new all the time, and it’s true, but sometimes I feel like I’m just afraid of commuting to something that doesn’t have a deadline. I’m having troubles applying for colleges but I’m sure I will find my way eventually, just like everyone else did before me. 

- Cris

Crossing Paths.


Isn't it weird to be walking through a huge crowd of people on a daily basis and having no idea of who all those individuals are? They just happen to be at the same place as you at the same time. Maybe you are completely different but you definitely have something in common: something or someone brought you both to where you are now. 

Lately, I started to believe that everything happens for a reason, even if that hurts us and makes us feel miserable for a little while. I just want to believe that there is a positive outcome, we just have to be strong enough to be able to wait for it to materialize. 

Some of my friends make fun of me because I change my mind fifty times before I make a decision, but there is a reason why I am like this. I believe that decision making is serious because everything we do now leads us to what we will be doing tomorrow and I want to make sure that I spend enough time trying to figure out if that is actually what I want to be doing. 

It's funny because all my headaches are the result of endless time spent deciding where I want to move next but "normal" people suffer from headaches for different reasons, like bills or lack or something or whatever. 

I've so many plans for next summer, and the following fall, that I don't even know what I want in the first place. I want to have plan bs because things just not go as planned sometimes, but on the other hand, I'd like to have fewer options because I just struggle to decide what I want. I only realize I truly want something when I just can't have it anymore and so I work my butt off to prove that I can, somehow, make it work.


So, when I was moving to Great Britain I flew from Milan to London with British Airways. As I was waiting to board, I took a picture of the queue I was in and sent it to my siblings complaining about the fact that my flight was going to be delayed because I was still on the ground when the gate was supposed to be closed already. As I land in London I can hear this girl asking the staff how to get to terminal 3 and so I pitched in and asked her if she was headed there for the same reason as I was. It turns out that she was also going to study at my host university and that she was also Italian. Weeks later I was going through my pictures and I found the picture of the queue and realized that she was literally a few feet away from me. We were both there for the same reason and we didn't know until we were abroad. Wild. But this is not even the first time that I meet someone and find out that we have been at the same place in the past, we just didn't have the chance to meet back then. In June 2013 I met a friend of mine outside Paramore's concert and the year after I met a girl, who's now one of my best friends, who was also there. And I could continue for hours...

Even though I believe that everything happens for a reason, sometimes I feel like traveling led me to lose myself rather than finding myself (traveling to find or to lose ourselves?).

Your turn. What's your story? Have you ever met anyone and realized that you could have actually met earlier than when it actually happened? Also, do you believe in destiny?

- Cris