This journal entry was originally written in June of 2010, after spending 10 months in Argentina as a high school exchange student.
We built our new lives here from scratch. And it didn’t just take one try.
We had to go to different sports, different classes, different clubs, on different days at different times, and talk to someone who referred us to a different someone who told us about a different someone until finally, we figured out what we wanted to do with our time here.
We hung out with one group of friends until we met a different group of friends and had a fight with another group of friends and learned more about a different group of friends until finally, we had our own real group of friends.
Our new lives weren’t handed to us when we got off the plane. Yes, we were entering a family that already had their life figured out, but their family that includes us is different too.
Back in our old lives, all the choices we had made since we were young determined the way other people thought about us and expected us to behave. Even more, those choices determined the way we thought about ourselves and expected ourselves to behave.
When we started a new life, we could easily make the same choices we always expected ourselves to make. But if we were lucky enough to realize that since no one else had any expectations about our decisions, we could change those expectations and rebuild ourselves with every new choice we made. Just like we did when we were little and how we spent all those years back in our old lives.
So when we first got here, we made each choice for a reason. It might have been purely to rebel against the way we would’ve chosen if other people had expectations for us. Yet it might have been out of habit or comfort. Or, we could’ve made our decisions based on the people we always wanted to be, but never were. No matter which reason, every choice we made was on purpose.
Now, we may not realize that we are different people than we were before. But we are different. We just don’t realize it yet because we made those decisions for a reason. And with every choice, we were changing. We didn’t just turn into different people when we stepped off the plane, we spent this entire year transforming into the people we are today. That’s why we can’t recognize the changes.
When you watch the leaves on a tree change color every day, you won’t realize the color is changing until all of a sudden it’s getting cold outside and you think back on the warmer days and realize that back then, the leaves were green. Now they’re yellow.
Returning to our old lives, everyone else will see the changes we are not yet aware have happened. It’s like a picture of a tree in summer, and a picture of a tree in fall. Everyone from our old lives remembers the picture of us from before, and when we return, they will have the picture of us from after.
But being back in our old lives will help us too discover the ways in which we have changed. When you go on a vacation, you might change temporarily. But it will only take a matter of days or weeks until you have gone back to your old ways. But this year was not a vacation.
We lived here this year. We recognize people on the street and stop to say hello. We recognize people on the street and avoid them because of that one time that one thing happened and it’s awkward between us now. We know where to find the best ice cream and the cheapest clothes. We know local phone numbers and the addresses of our friends’ houses by memory. We have a house key. We lost our house key. We found our house key again. We have a usual café and a usual drink at that café. We have friends that are surprised when we don’t order the usual. We know which channel is MTV and at what time our favorite shows come on every week. We are sometimes afraid to ask our parents to go out because we have gone out too many times in one week. We can make a playlist of all the songs that are always played at the club every Saturday, and we know all the words to every one. We know the bouncers at the door and they don’t ask for our identification anymore. We have a signature dance move and our friends can imitate it when someone calls out “The [insert your name here]!” We skip school because we go to school all the time anyway, so one day won’t hurt. We clean our rooms. We make a disaster of our rooms. We clean our rooms again. We are asked for directions by tourists because we are no longer tourists ourselves. We can tell any tourist how to get to anywhere. We pick up sayings and gestures from the people we spend too much time with. We don’t want to leave the people we spend too much time with and go back to our old lives. We live here now.
I always assumed that going back would be easier than coming here the first time. But now I’m starting to doubt that statement. When we came here, it was scary because we didn’t know what to expect. When we go back, we know what to expect, only it’ll be even scarier when we realize that the things we missed all year aren’t necessarily as great as the things we have in our new lives.
Everything is supposed to be perfect in the place we have referred to as “home” all year. But discovering that everything is in fact not perfect will be the worst discovery I could possibly make. We all want to go home, but not until we get there will we realize that this place is actually a home too. I want to be with my old friends, but I’m worried I will revert back into the ways I used to be when I am around them. Those expectations they have for us still exist. Only those expectations are based on the way we used to be. Will we start making decisions based on those old expectations again? Instead of the way we make decisions now? For ourselves?
Something even scarier to think about is the way all of the people from our old lives will react to us when we return. Will they be offended if we tell them about the things we miss from here? Will they understand that we really are different? And that we don’t necessarily want to make the same decisions anymore?
At least I am able to talk about this year with a “we” and not an “I,” because I know I will not be the only one with these same thoughts and problems. I got on the plane alone, and I’m going to get off of it alone. But we are exchange students.