This story represents a portion of the recent work produced by The Apple Leaf staff. The Apple Leaf is published by the Advanced Journalism class at Wenatchee High School, under the tutelage of adviser Dave Riggs. The award-winning publication is a forum for expression by the students of Wenatchee High School, affording them a chance to air facts and opinions relative to all issues of concern to them.
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The moment finally arrives. You’re standing in an airport terminal, tears falling down your cheeks, a suitcase at your side, and your family cocooned around you in a bubble of affection. You are about to embark on an adventure that will forever change the way you perceive your culture and yourself. You are about to leave on an exchange, and it feels like the entire world lies at your fingertips.
Taking advantage of foreign exchange opportunities during either high school or college is something that everyone should do, and I mean everyone.
Whether you’re outgoing or shy, traveled or sheltered, good with language or incompetent in Spanish class, traveling changes you for the better. It teaches people to laugh at themselves, to open their minds to new ideas, and to learn to step out of their comfort zones. It teaches people how to adapt to change, and ultimately, to learn that nothing is better or worse, just different.
For the next year, I will be living abroad in Rome through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I will be attending high school with Italian teenagers (and yes, my classes will be taught in Italian, a language I don’t speak at all), and I will live with three different host families. I am taking a gap year in between high school and college to go on this adventure, and although I was at first hesitant to take a break, I am now glad I am doing so.
For those freshmen, sophomores and juniors out there, I have one piece of advice: take advantage of travel or exchange opportunities that lie before you. With many different programs and scholarships available, depending on your age and financial situation, there really isn’t any reason not to go. There is plenty of time to go to college, and taking one year off during high school or in between high school and college will give you experiences that you will never forget.
If you are motivated and curious now, you will come home reinvigorated and ready to continue your education, and the experience will only give you insight into yourself. Rarely will you be offered another chance to travel the world without any obligations or careers to tie you down.
You’re at an age where language is easy to learn, where you are open to new ideas, and where you can fully embrace the experience. Take advantage of it. Exchanges teach you more than a year in class ever could. As exchange students often say amongst themselves, “An exchange is not a year in your life; it’s a life in a year.”