Had I read that quote when I was 18, I would have found a way to criticize it or perhaps call it a bit over-dramatic. But now, I can truly connect with every word in it.
Going on an exchange program when I was 19 made a ground-breaking impact in my life. It might have left me a bit confused afterward, but it made me feel completely alive. I realized that as tempting as they can be, comfort and stability leave us, to an extent, dead on the inside.
Our lives truly begin when we step out of comfort zones and see life for all the variables it contains.
Here are five lessons I learned from being an exchange student.
1. We are stronger than we think.
My family could be described as a bit overprotective. My mother didn't even want me to be a scouts member when I was a kid. So, going on a exchange program where I had to live all alone and depend solely on myself was understandably scary.
The funny thing is, I managed to do it. I ran all my errands, I managed to solve whatever problems I faced. I even admitted myself to a hospital when I had a bad case of sore throat. I was strong enough to handle them all because that was the only option I had; and that made all the difference.
2. We need to enjoy the little things.
Upon reflecting on my exchange year, small memories tend to stand out. I remember the daily walks to the gym before I headed to class, the late night talks with my international friends, star-gazing at night right before it started raining, the tear I shed right before I had to leave and many more.
I wasn't trying to plan anything then, I was enjoying the moment for what it was. Maybe I didn't have a huge eventful life there, but it’s not about that. Most of times, it’s the simple things that have the biggest impact.
3. You never quite find out who you are.
If you think you have yourself all figured out, try going on an exchange program. When you've lived in the same place all your life, you are subject to the same things and probably lack access to a huge part of your personality.
Going abroad and experiencing completely new situations will give you time to explore yourself. You'd realize what you like and what you don’t like. What you're good at and what you might need some improving in. When I went on an exchange program, I realized my true calling might lie in education and right now I am working on pursuing that.
4. Time flies.
The time I had there seems unreal. I made stronger connections there than I had in my 19 years in Lebanon. I had to make every moment matter and now I regret the moments which I was so passive about.
The times I chose the few extra hours of sleep instead of going out and exploring further. Life waits for no one, you need to make sure you are alive in each and single moment.
5. Home can be a lot of places.
My home is where my family is, where my friends are. It’s Lebanon, it’s Utica, it’s Istanbul, it’s Egypt. It’s where my heart is. It doesn't even have to be a place, it’s a state of mind and a connection.
Right now, I know my life can take so many turns, the possibilities are endless, and many more lessons are out there for me to learn.