By Puhiza Shemsedini (YES 2022-2023, Kosovo, placed by PAX in Portland, IN)
Overcoming fears takes a lot of courage, and one exchange year abroad will surely get you out of your comfort zone as you must leave your usual way of living and adjust to a new life. Everyone who decides to go on an exchange year at a young age is brave, and I was brave enough and ready to face everything, step out of my comfort zone, and try new things. I was excited... for most of it. However, only God knows how much I wished with all my heart not to have a dog in my host family.
For as long as I can remember, dogs were my biggest phobia. I remember changing my direction if I saw a dog coming my way. I remember canceling plans or telling people I would be late because I switched to a different, longer road. My body trembled every time a dog crossed by. And it wasn’t just a little fear anymore; it became severe. I used to mistake trash cans for dogs, which would startle me as the worst scenarios went through my mind.
Well, here I am now, crying because I miss my host family's dog and my local coordinator’s dog. I remember when I entered my regional coordinator’s house for the first time, and her dog, Stella, jumped on me.
Imagine how someone who had never pet a dog before would feel after a big golden doodle almost knocked them down? The first seconds were scary, but after a few minutes, she stole my heart. Love doesn’t need words to be shown, and that’s exactly what Stella did. She showed me love, and I could feel it. She came and hugged me; she wanted me to talk to her, and we created a bond.
At first, I was confused and didn’t know what to do with her. I usually don’t interact with dogs, but it felt nice to let her hug me. No wonder it happened, but my life became happier. I think I found a love that I was missing all my life—the love of a dog. I saw a relationship between dogs and humans in the movies but never imagined that would happen to me.
I started visiting their house more often because I wanted to see Stella’s excitement when she saw me. Taking her to the park, letting her out, rubbing her belly, and letting her take out my hair tie from my hair became my favorite way of spending the free time I had.
Stella and her love changed my perspective, and now I won’t change my way when I see dogs. However, I might still be late because I will stop to pet and play with them. My unforgettable exchange year taught me many things, and I grew in so many ways, but learning to overcome my fear of dogs and turn it into love is one of the things I’ll always be most grateful for.