It is July 31st. I am standing in an airport far away from here. I turn around for the last time and see my parents and three sisters waving goodbye with tears running down their faces. I have not cried a single tear today. I think the tears are all gone. I cried enough yesterday. I am way too excited to cry anyway. Today it is finally going to happen. I have been waiting for this moment for almost two years. I believe that this year is going to be worth it.
I am seventeen years old and I am an exchange student. I have traveled all the way from the Netherlands by myself to go to an American high school. Not just for a week, but for a whole school year. I will go for eleven months without seeing my family, friends, or home.
Why? Because I believe that I will grow more this year than I would in the Netherlands in three years. Not physically, but mentally. I think that this year will make me independent, strong and mature. I am encouraged to make my own choices, figure things out by myself, and to grow socially. Going to a new country with another culture and language, where you don’t know anyone, feels like being thrown to the lions. It could be hard, but I kept believing. I believed that leaving my family, living with total strangers in an amazingly different country with even a much different climate, and having to repeat a full year of high school when I go back home would be worth it. I believe that all these sacrifices give great rewards, both now and in the future.
And now, after exactly six months, it feels like knowing. I know I have grown, that my English has improved, and that I have changed. And that is exactly what I was hoping for. I believed it would happen, and that is why I decided to do an exchange year. I believe that this year will change the rest of my life. I will have better job opportunities because my English is almost fluent. I have made new friends on the other side of the world. I have a second family for the rest of my life. But most importantly, I have had an enormous life-changing experience.
I am growing more this year than I ever have. My exchange year has been one big adventure full of new experiences. Things like spirit week, Halloween, the State Fair, cooking and ceramic classes at school, football games, city tournament, horseshoes, and playing on the high school tennis team are just a few examples of amazing things I have never experienced before.
Without sacrifice, I would have never gotten this enormous opportunity. All the worries, tears, and missing friends, family and the safe feeling of home were more than worth it.
Great sacrifices give great rewards.
This I Believe Illinois is an essay program for high school seniors to share their perspectives as they prepare to enter adulthood. Each year, a panel selcts ten submitted essays to be recorded by their authors for broadcast on NPR Illinois. Since 2007, the selected authors also deliver their essays at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise where the students receive scholarships from the organization.