“Exchange is not a year in a life, but a life in a year.” - unknown.
All exchange students realize the credibility of this statement. Like all lives no exchange is the same, all are incredible unique exchanges. The metaphor of life, from baby to old age, extends to every part of the exchange.
My first months of my Rotary International exchange in Bolivia, I was like a baby in this new life. I arrived in Santa Cruz at 2 a.m. without my luggage. My host mom waiting for me saw I was without luggage, passed security and took the problem out of my non-understanding hands. I trusted her with me and all I came with and I only knew her for one minute. This is how a baby is with its parents; the baby doesn’t know his or her parents, yet trusts them with everything.
As the days passed I felt like a sponge soaking in everything, how Cruceños eat, their daily habits, the traffic, etc. My jaw was constantly on the floor with awe and excitement about my new home and life; I was like a baby with the constant look of curiosity and happiness. Just as an infant is constantly meeting new people, I was always meeting new people: My new relatives, the kids at school, exchange students and others. In the infancy of my exchange I communicated through a giant game of charades due to the fact I had no prior knowledge of the Spanish language. This is like the baby who communicates with hands, gurgling and crying. As I got to know my new home and learned the new language I grew into the next section of my life.
Infants turn into teenagers and college students overnight in their parents’ eyes and enter the next section of life. Months after my infancy in Bolivia came my teenage and early college years of exchange. Most teenagers go through a period of rebellion and dislike their current life and home. This came to me through culture shock and homesickness. I started disliking things in Santa Cruz just because. I disliked the crazy driving and all the speed bumps, the trash in the streets and the deplorable conditions of beggars, the relaxed sense of time and plans. Everything that was different about Santa Cruz I disliked.
Just as the rebellious phase passes and is replaced with adventure, curiosity and overall the best part of their lives, the culture shock and homesickness passes and is replaced with adventure, “culture learning” and curiosity. This is the high point of the exchange.
At this point in time my Spanish came to a point where I could functionally communicate. With the help of this ability I started making true friends. I met a Brazilian at my school that showed me the social night life on the weekends; where people go to discotechas to dance and socialize. I met a Bolivian who took me to play soccer every Monday and Thursday. I also became good friends with the other exchange students. Since they were in different schools, they invited me to their school parties or dances called confrats, where again was a chance to dance and socialize. I explored the different parts of Santa Cruz; from the Micro (bus) system and getting lost many times over, to the soccer games at the stadium. The games are a crazy spectacle of cheering, singing, jumping and fireworks within the stadium. At this time I saw the culture differences of the holidays and Carnival. Also I began taking kenpo karate and my life started to fall into a pattern.
As I became accustomed and comfortable with my life in Santa Cruz, my life became patterned. This is like a graduate of college who settles down into a life and work in which he loves, and a life he is comfortable in. Thus the next section of my life in a year; I became like a young adult. I came to love Santa Cruz and its culture. As the young adult changes where he lives and meets new people and friends, I moved families and schools, met new people and friends.
The adult thoroughly knows his craft of his work at this stage, and as my craft in Bolivia is learning Spanish, I became fluent in Spanish. With the young adult’s work comes a pattern; for me this pattern became school and playing soccer on Monday and Thursday, doing kenpo karate during the week and going out with friends on the weekend. Every day I would go to bed happy as can be.
A young adult slowly ages as he gains wisdom, suddenly he is in his waning years. The exchange student experiences this waning of years of an old man also. As my last two and half months are upon me, I have become fluent in Spanish, know the city and its culture like the back of my hand. I am the old man who has acquired knowledge throughout his life. I am reminded how soon my exchange will be over in a few months by other exchange students leaving or soon to leave.
Thus I am experiencing in a way what an old man feels when his friends pass away. I look back on my exchange and am happy with it. I am left wondering how did it go so fast? Yet I still look to see what is new and how I can make the most of the remaining time. I feel certain that the old man does the same thing, he looks back on his life and is filled with happiness and a grin pops up on his face. Though they don’t sit back and do nothing, but instead still live life to the fullest. Thus I am living my exchange life to the fullest in its waning time.
Exchange is truly a life in a year. The exchange student grows in every way, knowledge of a different culture, open mindedness, personality and maturity. The exchange student loves his host country like his home country; he will never forget his other life that happened in a year.
Hunter Cox is a Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School student on Rotary exchange in Bolivia.