On my last week of school in Australia, I was asked to deliver a speech at our full-school assembly. I think the speech summed up my experience pretty well, so I'll share it with you:
"For those of you who don't know, I'm Carmen. I've been in Perth on exchange from the USA for almost ten months. I have to say, this experience has been the most eventful, eye-opening, nerve-racking, emotional, fun year of my life. Being an exchange student has helped me become so much more independent, courageous, outgoing, knowledgeable, and responsible.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by Australia. My dad used to spend a month here every year doing research for his job as a professor, so naturally this country was one of the top candidates when the idea of studying abroad came up. Although when my exchange began, I had no idea what to expect.
As an American, I obviously didn't come over here to practice a second language, as exchange students usually tend to do. However, I’ve had such a blast immersing myself in the Aussie culture: learning the slang, trying new foods, and doing activities I’d never done: from snorkelling and surfing on New Year’s Day to wandering the city streets with other exchange students and sleeping under the stars in the Outback.
Staying with a host family that I’d never met before, living away from my twin sister, and going to a brand new school by myself have been some of the most challenging yet thrilling experiences of my life. My understanding and perspective of the world have expanded and matured tremendously in these ten months. They were nothing like what I pictured, and I won’t deny that there have been some serious rough patches. However, those are the moments that have made my experience more valuable and enriching than I could have hoped.
Unfortunately, I’ve only been here at this school for a fraction of my exchange. However, I can easily say that these three months were the best ones of my trip. I truly love and value the time I’ve spent at this school so much. My experience here has been completely different to that of Darling Range, mostly for the better. In only three months, I have met some of my favorite teachers and made friends for life. I have had so much fun experiencing the concept of school houses (Mackillop Represent!), playing soccer after school, and sharing all my own stories about America.
Australia is no longer just 'the place my dad used to go every year to study bowerbirds'. It’s no longer just the country of tanned surfers and clear-water beaches. No longer 'that place down under' with all the kangaroos and koalas. It's just Australia. The place I spent almost a year--the most amazing year-- of my life in. The place I formed some of the best relationships of my life. The newest part of my identity. It’s my home away from home.
Tomorrow, my last day at this school, and Friday, the day I take off, will be two of the most emotional days of my life. While back in July I had no doubt I’d return to see my family and friends again, I won’t have the same guarantee here. I will have to say goodbye to the family I’ve established an irreplaceable bond with, the mentors who have made this experience possible for me, and the amazing friends who have made it the most enjoyable, unforgettable time it could be, not knowing when I’ll see any of them again. I truly hope that this is not permanent goodbye, and that one day I will see you again.
As I’ve said, I’ve learned so many valuable lessons as an exchange student; and as cliché as some of it may sound, I would like to share it with you to conclude this speech.
- Take as many opportunities as you can to travel and meet new people. Travel is truly the best way to learn, and you’ll never imagine what kind of friends you will meet.
- Don’t be afraid to pursue activities you’ve never done before. I’m probably the least coordinated person you will ever meet, but I decided to try playing soccer just for the heck of it, and I’ve had the time of my life.
- If you want something, work for it. At first I faced a lot of resistance when trying to move schools, and I almost gave up. Thankfully, my host mom convinced me to keep pushing to make it happen, and it was definitely worth it.
Thank you so much to my friends for being so supportive, generous, and thoughtful. Thank you to my teachers for being so helpful and patient with me. And thank you so much to the staff for making this experience possible. I am truly grateful to all of you and I will never forget you."
Well, this is it. I've been so lucky to get the chance to write about my experiences and share them with all of you. I've answered so many questions from students all over the world about my experience, and even though my exchange is over, I will always be there for future exchange students. We're in this together! So if you have any questions, concerns, or just need someone to talk to, don't hesitate to directly message me on Instagram! @anythin9but0rdinary