Year abroad brings personal growth

Aneta Huckova, General columnist

Deciding to leave home is never easy. It might be few days visiting grandparents or two weeks at summer camp. In my case, it was a year spent thousands of miles away from my home.

I prepared the same way for my trip to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student as I did for any other vacation. I packed my bags, didn’t think about it too much and then the date of my departure arrived. Without too much sentimentality, I said goodbye to my friends and family.

And there I was, left alone. No one to help me get a plane ticket or figure out a way to another terminal. It made my stomach drop and twist.

As I exited the plane in Dallas, I was scared, but hopeful, to meet my host family; the people who would give me food, provide room and board, and be the general source of everything I needed for the next 10 months. When I met them, they were holding a big, yellow sparkly sign that read “Welcome to our family.” It was nice, and I hugged them all before we left the airport to head to their home.

I was exhausted and hungry as they drove me to “my” new house. They opened the big wooden door for me, and after giving a tour, they mentioned where the towels were, and told me to call them if I needed anything. Then they left me to rest.

I sat on the bed, looking at the room that was going to be mine. It was painted with lovely colors, with a light blue bed and big closet. I looked at the bed and wondered why it was so tall. Then I picked up the phone and finally called the person I most wanted to hear from since I left: my mom.

I told her how much I missed her, that I was OK, and the family is nice. I didn’t tell her that I miss her so much it hurts, that it feels like someone shot me in the stomach. I hung up and went to sleep.

After the next few days, things got better, and during the next few months, I was getting better at both being independent and at solving my own problems. My time management improved, and so did my confidence.

Sometimes I didn’t understand the language or the people, but the community was still kind and they tried to help me as much as they could. There were new people in my life who taught me new activities, and helped me grow stronger.

I kept my head up, and throughout the year, I realized how much I’ve changed; how much a year abroad changes a person into someone different from who they were. It helped to learn about other cultures and people.

As the date of my return to the Czech Republic approaches, I am grateful to my parents and to my past self for making this decision. I don’t even recognize the person who cried the first time they got here.