This Is Not Easy
When you read my blog posts and look at my Instagram pictures, it is very easy to get caught up in all of the fun parts of an exchange year. While the past five months have been some of the most exciting months of my life, it is very hard.
Being an exchange student is, for me, like completely locking myself out of my comfort zone for a year. Unless I hop on a plane back home, it is virtually impossible to get myself to a place where I am fully relaxed. Of course, I knew this would be the case but the reality is much different than just thinking about it from your bed at home. Especially the first couple of weeks and months, it was incredibly draining to always be on guard. I woke up in an unfamiliar bed, ate an unfamiliar breakfast, went to an unfamiliar school, and then at the end of the day came back to an unfamiliar family. Perpetually concerned that I was saying or doing the wrong thing, I fell asleep every night utterly exhausted. While this feeling has somewhat diminished as I near the halfway mark of my exchange, there is still almost always a nagging feeling that keeps me on edge.
This is an entirely new culture and especially in the beginning months, it was hard to distinguish what is “normal” here. It was not that I wanted to try and completely conform to the Dutch culture. Afterall, I’m not Dutch. However, I’m here to learn the culture and I don’t want to be sooo glaringly American. It takes a huge mental toll to be constantly questioning your every movement and overthinking everything you do.
Making friends is hard no matter what your situation, but I would like to argue that it’s even harder when you don’t speak the same language. Especially at the beginning of the year, I found that people were afraid to talk to me because they didn’t think their English was very good or simply because I was from the “buitenland”. Having lived in the same town for most of my life, surrounded by the same group of close friends since Kindergarten, this was completely new to me. It was weird to feel so alienated from a group of people. I think what made it harder was realizing that they had all been friends for so long. I mean, if our roles were reversed and I was back home with my American friends, it would probably be equally as hard to break into our group. Luckily, I’ve managed to make some killer friends after just putting myself out there. That is the point of this year, isn’t it? Do things you wouldn’t normally do.
The most frequent question I get from people here, besides “Why did you choose the Netherlands?”, is whether I miss home or not. Of course I do, homesickness is definitely a huge factor in an exchange. It is hard to see life just go on for everyone at home while you aren’t there. However, in 6 months I’ll be back home, missing the Netherlands like crazy. I try not to let myself think about home in that way, but it can definitely be difficult sometimes. Everything at home is comfortable and familiar and it is hard not to wish that everything could be easy, even just for one day.
Despite how hard these past 5 months have been, I wouldn’t change a thing about them. In only 5 months, I can see a major change in myself regarding my confidence, outgoingness, and just character in general. Not once have I thought to myself, “I want to go home”. I know the next 6 months are going to be just as hard but that is what I signed up for and I’m honestly excited to see what else this year could possibly throw at me.