August 18th, 2010 marked the end of life as I knew it.
Before August, I had never travelled outside of the United States and Canada. I had never lived in any city other than Ogdensburg, New York. I had never been “the new student” at school, never moved to a different house, never even spent more than two weeks away from my family. I had really never been out of my comfort zone.
And yet, August 18th, there I was in New York City, amongst dozens of exchange students-to-be, all of us ready to board a plane, cross an ocean, and live eleven months with families we had never met. I left North America for the first time. I was part of a group of students headed for Belgium- students who I had met the day before and who have since become my close friends.
Mere hours later, I saw land below the plane and looked up to see fifteen faces reflecting the ecstatic smile on my own.
At the time, I had only vague ideas of the following eleven months.
Before I left, and even now, I am sometimes asked me why I would even consider skipping my senior year of high school to become an exchange student.
The answer is simple: I wanted to. I wanted to learn a new life, one that I wasn't born into. I wanted to try having siblings my age. I wanted to try high school without prom. I wanted to learn about my own culture through the eyes of another.
So I left the life I knew and jumped into a new culture.
And now, after living here for six months, a solid half year, I realize that I never even began to imagine this. I have become part of a family that I didn't know existed until last March. I've come to love exchange student friends and Belgian friends as much as friends I've had for years. I have learned to speak a new language. I have become used to a different school, different routines, and a new home. I have added Amy Macdonald, Stromae, Kyo, and Cœur de Pirate to my music playlist.
I have learned so much, had many firsts, and made a lot of mistakes.
Quite simply, I've lived.
Still, it's hard to believe that I have already been here for half a year. One year- it feels like such a long time, but it goes so quickly. All at once, it is short enough that I will miss the blooming of the summer fruit trees, yet it is long enough that I no longer remember what it feels like to be monolingual.
This one remarkable year has changed everything.
And in that, August 18th, 2010 was a beginning.