An exchange student muses at the halfway point

Picture 1• The following essay, presented in unedited form, was written by Alyxe Perry, who is spending a Rotary Exchange Year in Belgium. You can keep up with her on her blog by clicking here.

So I can’t even begin to express in words how much Exchange has changed my life, but I’m going to take the challenge and try.

I came here as an 18 year old girl not knowing what to expect, just hoping for the best, ready to learn. I had ideas about life, what I was going to do and where I would live, the things everyone thinks about. I look back now and the words that go through my head as think about those moments were “wow, how could my mind be so small” and I wasn’t one with a “small mind” I thought. I realize it’s not that I wasn’t thinking big enough, it’s that my imagination was controlled by what I knew and my previous life experiences.

As the months went by I began changing, in the best way possible, I learned so much. Met friends from around the world and started to understand how the once so BIG world is actually very small and reachable. Anything is possible. I think my brain is different now. I dream so much more than I ever did before. Not the dreams you have at night, but life dreams, and goals. They are not just dreams, they can easily become reality. Through this whole process I have learned how to do that. Make connections with people, don’t ever be afraid to talk to someone. Everyone has something to offer in this world and who knows you could be a part of that something, for the rest of your life. KEEP AN OPEN MIND, a closed mind gets you no where. I have found that a lot of people, and I think I was a bit like this before my exchange, don’t take in all thoughts. When minds work together they are one thousand times stronger than minds that work separately. One person can’t always be right. Respect everyone, you never know when you will see them again or what opportunities they could present you.

As I approach the halfway mark of my Exchange I have so much to reflect on, and think about. I have never felt so many emotions in my entire life. I am so grateful to have this opportunity. I never would have thought that being so far away from your home can actually bring you so much closer.

I was thinking the other day about the word “home”. We always say it but what does it really mean. The place you were born? The place you are currently living? The place your family lives? Throughout our lives “homes” come and go. The phrase “home is where the heart is” has never meant so much to me before because it defined the word home for me. I AM at home here in Belgium. I have two homes here, two families that have taken me in, provided for me, loved me, and nourished me for the time that I stayed there. I will always love them and leave a piece of my heart with them, therefore calling it my home. I also have a home back in New York. What my real family likes to think of as my “real home” where i grew up, and spent so much of my life. Where so much of my heart is too. I have never loved that home more than I do now being away from it. It is really hard to wrap your head around and I apologize if you have to read this paragraph a few times. If you’ve ever questioned where home is, don’t. Whatever comes to your head and you feel in your heart, is home, you can have more than one.

I want you guys to feel inspired. Think about life and all that you have done. It’s honestly amazing. A truly beautiful thing. It’s something everyone has, but nobody’s is the same. We all chose different paths different ways of living. Through that we develop thoughts and ideas we learn from. Everything you do is important, every decision you make has an effect. Think about one day you were planing to go out, even if it was just to the grocery store, but instead you decided to stay home or do it tomorrow. That changes the people you see, the people you could potentially meet, the opportunities you could have. Don’t let those opportunities wait until tomorrow, they may not be there.

I think a really good word to describe myself right now is open. Open to new things, open mind, open heart. This all leads me to who I have become, something school could never teach me only I could find by myself through exchange.

Live like there’s no tomorrow. Enjoy the little things in life. Slow down, look around and take a deep breath. Put a smile on your face, even if you’re sad, life looks better when you smile. 🙂 Be thankful. Appreciate. LOVE. Make everything fun. Sing at the top of your lungs. Dance like you just got new legs……..and just enjoy life, it’s not a chore, it’s a gift. Pretend it’s Christmas and reopen the best gift you’ve ever gotten…today 🙂


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