Trivial things aside, I think the most startling surprise my mother was left with was my language. Having only heard me speak once before with my hosts during a Skype occasion months ago, I am sure the nasally, tonal, gibberish that she heard from my mouth upon our first meeting took her aback. My fluency in Thai, too, proved to serve me as usefully as ever since the task of organizing everything from peanut-less food to hotels and tours was up to me. These tasks were much less difficult than I originally thought they’d be and, once completed, reflected the overall success I’ve had this year as an exchange student.
Reflecting upon my year in general it’s hard to forget the early months of slogging clumsily through life with only rudimentary language skills, bungling cultural norms and, although never really despaired, feeling incompetent at every turn. Those less savory memories make my current place at almost complete language fluency and societal adeptness feel earned. Playing the part of tour guide, translator, and one might even say, mother, for my mother reinforced my already existing sense of strength and comfort in my new environment.
Exchange is about confronting steep challenges, struggling with them and eventually conquering them. As I bid my mother goodbye at the airport with “see you soon,” a wry yet legitimate truth, I felt more pride than gloom. The last time I said goodbye to her at an airport was a lifetime ago, in New York, with me sheepishly wearing my Rotary blazer and smiling eagerly. It will indeed be a short time until I am home again and that’s a reality I can embrace since my mother’s visit proved to me that I have come full circle, regretting nothing.
Zak Aldridge is a junior at Milford Central School. To read more from him, visit eightabovetheequator.wordpress.com.