get your pack of chips, sit comfortable and enjoy my post.
“So What Exactly Happened in Colombia?”
What can happen in eleven months? Sure, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring fly by, and most kids my age can tell you about the school year, the friendships they’ve made or lost or even talk about all of the wonderful formals and proms they attended. We, exchange students can tell you the same things, but the one major difference is that we’ve experienced everything in a whole new culture; different from everyone else back home. That is why we have problems with being understood by people, who have not been on an exchange.
My New Life.
When my mom came to visit me in Colombia in May I truly didn’t feel comfortable with her there. I was really excited to see her for the first time in eight months and I really couldn’t put a finger on why I didn’t feel at ease with her here, but everything just seemed really awkward. I just couldn’t seem to act like myself around them. Once I told her that during this year without her I grew up, people taught me things which she didnt, I experienced moments that she did not even dream about. That is exactly what an exchange is. It’s a whole new world. I learned to live without my parents, siblings, friends here. I had families, friends, routines and experiences, which didn’t include them. When it all comes down to it, I’m leaving behind my new world.
Same Experiences. Different Situations.
I remember having a nerve racking first day of school. Back home I would have been nervous because of the new school year but this year it was just because I didn’t understand any of the language being spoken. I’ve done and been through so much this year. My life here has been tweaked to become the life of an exchange student. I have true friends to last a lifetime, not from my childhood and not because I’ve grown up with them. They are from Brazil, the United States, and especially Colombia. They are friends to last forever because we have been through this emotional journey with each other. I learned how to dance, but not at school or at a studio but in a hostel while traveling with exchange students or during familiar events. I learned a whole new language not online nor taking classes at school but by living within the language, being immersed right into the culture, lifestyle and language of Colombia, the language of love and kindness.
The Little Things to You Aren’t So Little to Me.
Since arriving here, I carried tissues in my pocket everywhere I went. I wore slippers in my house all of the time. I used more coins there than I ever have back home. I learned to not hate anything I eat but to just not enjoy it. I also learned to have very simple conversations. You might not think anything of all these examples, but behind each is a story.
I carried tissue everywhere now because from the first day in Cucuta I got terrible allergy on grass, trees and everything what green is.
I wore slippers in the house and outside cause there was too hot to wear anything else. At home the floor was too hot that I had to wear them, outside it was too hot to wear even ballerinas.
I used a lot more coins here because in most places you could not pay by card as I was used to it in Poland.
I ate a lot while I was here in Colombia! I mean a lot! Before I came to Colombia I had a fear of certain vegetables and fruits and I would never try anything that didn’t look pleasant to me back home. Because I didn’t know most of the food there and the fact that I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings I tried everything and I can honestly say that there were a few dishes that didn’t please my taste buds, but the more I tried things the easier it was to tolerate certain foods I didn’t like. I have also grown to enjoy certain foods and really love others that I would never touch back home. That is why I gain over 15kg. It was really hard to get rid of unnecessary kg and many people hurt me while gossiping about me or just making fun of me. Do I regret? not even a gram of food. Because the beauty is not from the outside, but in the inside. No one in Colombia has hurt me talking about my oversize ass, in Poland, everyone.
I’ve learned to make small talk with the elderly during familar events . There are many elderly in my colombian family and sometimes they just start a random conversation. It made me a little uncomfortable at first having these total strangers talk to me but over time I became really interested to see what they would say to me. I found out that a lot of the elderly in Colombia are interested in II World War and that is why our small talk was so interesting because I had many things to say.
What I Miss.
Everything. Simple and cheesy, but so true. When I left PL there were some things I wouldn’t miss so much because I was so used to them or I wanted a break from certain things for a year. Just a year! However, Colombia I haven’t had enough of anything! It has only been a year, and it wasnt too long before I returned but Yes, I miss the food and fresh fruits. Caldo- the best soup for hangover, all type of fruits I have tried. and what is the most important.. PEOPLE. People with who I am in touch now are my real friends, forever. And we now that.
I truly miss my families. My mothers, my sisters and my big brothers. I feel like my mother’s have known me my whole life. It was so comfortable to enter their homes and take on the role as their daughter. They were their for all of my needs and they also took care of me like one of their own children. My sisters have always been there for me during my rough times and have been there to also make my stay here in Cucuta or Bogota more enjoyable. And my brothers? Well, they have defiantly never let me forget that I’m the baby sister that’s for sure! They we’re always very concerned about me and took care of me like bigger brothers do. They also did make this year more humorous for me. And the one thing that I will miss dearly is my home. COLOMBIA. This will always be my second home. I’ve only lived here for 11 months but those 11 months were the most life changing months in my life and all of my experiences and changes took place there, in Colombia.
What I’ve Missed Out on This Year.
It is a bit painful that did not have the chance to experience a high school and prom with my friends and family back home in Poland, but I still feel blessed that I had an entirely different experience in Colombia with my new friends and family.
My now five year old sister has been growing up. For me, I’ve only been able to experience it through photos, phone calls and recently video chat. I’ve missed her vocabulary tripling in size as well as herself sprouting into a little toddler. I’ve missed her excitement during Christmas, opening birthday presents, and Easter egg painting. I could say that I’m fine with missing my first year of Prom or missing one year with friends but my sister growing up without me is one of the hardest things for me to miss. I could not wait to see a girl in front of me (instead of the baby I left), a mature high school boy (my about to be 16 year old brother Marcel and my sister's high school graduation) and I couldnt wait to see my granny. Coming back to Poland was really hard moment for me, I can even say that one of the hardest moment in my life. Saying goodbye to some people forever, because it is simple and clear that not every friendships last.
I had two weeks left and the heartbreak begun. I had to say my last goodbyes to all of the exchange students that went through this roller coaster journey with me. They are some of the people that I’ve grown to care about and love this year. All of my families have truly become apart of my life and leaving they will honestly be like leaving my family back home just ten months ago. I find it hard to sleep at night because my mind wanders in thought about my year here. Not one memory I have in Poland could ever slip my mind.
When I finally left Colombia, the most important things I took with me were my memories. I will always remember every moment with my friends, I will always remember my time spent with my family in Bogota or Cucuta. I will always remember the times I was falling " in love " and the times when I had to say goodbye for the lovers. I will always remember Colombian parties and I will always remember my trip to Miami with my family, I will always remember my the most embarrasing moments and I will always remember the moments which made my cry from happiness.
what is the most valuable to hear from your new friends, from other culture ?
" Natalia, you are not just an exchange student, you are now part of us" - Hugo, my dear friend.
Before I began this journey, Colombia was just a word and I was told it was part drug business, but now I understand it is more than people or a place on the world map, it is part of my life. Forever.
Rotary was a group that helped me with this exchange program. I now see that it has allowed me connections with friends and places I never would have known. They are a group of people who selflessly give of their time to make us all better citizens. Rotary has helped us all understand other cultures and hopefully we will mature to assist in growing a better world.
What am I doing now ?
I just graduated, I got my IB diploma, I am 20 year old girl who is just the happiest person in the world. what did make me that happy? people, because PEOPLE are the most beautiful thing you could even have around.
From 20 August I am moving from Warsaw to Amsterdam to start a new part of my life. For those who would like to meet me in person or get more info about the exchange, please contact me via email. firstname.lastname@example.org
Natalia Skotnicka, Rotary Youth Exchange, Colombia, 2011-2012