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May 30, 2013

Local Voices From Around the Globe: Exchange has taught me to love my flaws

By Grace Heneghan
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Hello from Germany! I’m currently on my second Euro Tour visiting and exploring most of Europe.

Some very memorable things I’ve done so far was climb the Eiffel Tower in a downpour, get lost while riding a bike in Amsterdam, a gondola ride in Venice, and seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum. These trips are sort of a last hurrah for us exchange students; I may never see some of them ever again. This thought is very sad for me because its very final, in a little more than a month I will be an “oldie.” If I was given the choice to do this year all over again I wouldn’t hesitate. I’ve learned so much during this time, about myself, different cultures and how to deal with certain situations. My exchange forced me to face my demons and learn how to love my flaws.

There was no way to predict what exchange would be like. We hear stories and are told about what to expect, but when it actually comes to doing it, there is no real explanation. I am very lucky to have spent this year in Hungary, but I’m ready to go home. I find that most of my fellow exchange students feel the same way. We had an amazing year, but its time.

It is frustrating that I didn’t become fluent in a language. On this trip we were accompanied by a few exchange students living in Italy and they all learned Italian in under four months. To us who are living in Hungary, this idea seems somewhat impossible. I did develop the mindset to learn another language, so I’m excited to try again.

I will miss many things from Hungary like my friends, other exchange students, my host families, Milka Chocolate, Budapest, public transport, bread and the sense of adventure. I may have mixed feelings about my host country, but I regret nothing. Things I’m excited for when I come home are swimming, school, friends, my family, English, my dog, T.J. Maxx and getting a driving permit.

We’ve been warned about reverse culture shock and how it is usually worse than culture shock. Reverse culture shock is when you return home from a long trip and you just feel out of place. Everything feels familiar, but not right. I have matured so much because of my year away, I’m curious to see how I feel when I get home.

I remember talking about my exchange being dreamlike in the beginning of the year; it feels more like that more then ever. I try to recall events and it’s a big blur. I have to remind myself that ordering coffee in Hungarian and walking next to the Danube River isn’t normal for most teenagers from upstate New York. That meeting kids from completely different cultures and backgrounds isn’t what I’ll do on a normal weekend. That traveling three hours means being in a different county and not country.

I have friends going on exchange, and I can’t help but feel jealous/excited for them. We will have very different experiences, but I know what they will go through.

In conclusion, exchange is one of the best times and worst times of your life.

Grace Heneghan is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student who traveled to Hungry. To read more about her adventures, visit her blog at