By Merima Muhic, YES 2015-2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted by ACES in Apex, North Carolina
My motto is a borrowed one: Aut viam inveniam aut faciam, meaning I will either find a way or make one. Well, maybe I don’t mean it in the sense Hannibal meant it when he said it, but applied to my own voyage. Don't be fooled, though; just like every other human, I like to think that I have a motto to go by and don't even notice myself doing the exact opposite of what my motto states...
In August 2015, my exchange year was about to be off to a great start. In my head, I had everything planned out. I was going to join ten different clubs, be a straight-A student, and become a star athlete (even though I’ve never done anything more than walking). Can you guess what followed these ambitious plans? It didn’t go quite the way I imagined it. I’m not saying it is impossible to achieve all of this, but it’s also really important for new exchange students to understand that they are about to move to a different continent and that they are most likely about to go through the biggest culture shock of their lives.
No big deal.
In my case, I let it consume me. Instead of doing all of it, I ended up doing none of it. I allowed my culture shock and the fear of opening up take over the first month of my life in Apex, North Carolina. The worst part was that my high school was so full of things to discover and do, but I spent my free time at home. Homesickness was the next phase and my mind was sending a red alarm: free time is your enemy. The only friends I had were other exchange students who were in the same boat. Having exchange students as friends is great, but focusing only on them can inhibit an exchange student from enjoying the true American experience. The point is to learn balance. Not only with friends, but everything else. I’m getting to the part of how I dealt with it, don’t worry!
Luckily, I realized my problem pretty early on. The first American friends I made were at the bus stop (easy as that!). One of those friends was on the track and field team, so I tried it out and ended up staying for the whole season. This pushed me to do more research on what my school had to offer, so by the end of the next month, I was quite busy. After joining any activity, new friends would come along, so it was a double score! I eventually joined the lacrosse team for the spring season and met some of my best friends there. I also allowed myself to admit I was having a hard time to my host mom. She was so compassionate and helped me with any tough period I had. Host families are such a valuable asset when it comes to dealing with homesickness, but we sometimes don’t even think of turning to them.
Being scared is perfectly fine. Letting it take over your life is not. Don’t be afraid to try new things and meet new people; that’s what exchange is for. Free time is good for you and your health, but when that free time becomes an excuse for avoiding something, that’s when it becomes your enemy. Present yourself and your country in the best way possible and allow yourself to have the time of your life!