By Kathryn Teck
We live on a big planet filled with various cultures, languages and people — each one unique. Most of us remain within a small part of that planet and stay within our culture, where we all speak the same language and encounter the same people. Some of us never venture outside of the place we grew up, scared to lose the familiarity of what we know. Some of us long to venture outside of the place we grew up, scared to stay in the familiarity of what we know.
I belong to the second group, which is why I decided to become an exchange student. Through Rotary Youth Exchange, I have been living in Germany for the last seven months learning a new language, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. I honestly can say this was the best decision I could have made at age 16.
Growing up surrounded by Rotary and being in Interact, where helping others and community service is the priority, deciding to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student was not a hard decision. Getting to experience the world with an organization dedicated to helping those within it seemed like a perfect opportunity. After talking with my family and contemplating the idea myself, I decided that I wanted to do this.
After applying, getting my country placement and saying goodbye to my family and friends, I was off to Germany. My first few weeks here were a learning curve defined by not knowing the language, having to make all new friends and figuring out things like public transportation. However, I was equipped with the amazing support system of my host family and others in the community who helped me. Thanks to those people, as well as other exchange students from all over the world going through the same experience, it didn’t take long for me to settle in. Now, half a year later, I have friends in school and all over the world.
Despite the original challenges I experienced, and the ones I continue to face, the past year has been nothing short of amazing. I have learned, seen, and experienced a great deal since being here. However, the most important thing that happened was recognizing my capabilities and realizing that if I could do this, I could do anything I set my mind to.
Kathryn Teck lives with her mother, Sarah, and five rescue dogs in Kiln. She attends Hancock High School, has finished 11th grade and will graduate next year. As immediate past vice president of the first community-based Rotary Interact Club in District 6840, she has essentially “grown up” in Rotary, as her mother and grandmother are both members of the Rotary Club of Bay St. Louis.
How to cope with a new environment
(AS TOLD BY SOMEONE WHO MOVED TO GERMANY FOUR DAYS AFTER TURNING 16.)
Moving out is hard. Moving to another country on the other side of the world before you are even a legal adult is VERY hard. As an exchange student who did exactly that seven months ago, here is how I dealt with a move across the globe:
IT’S NOT FOREVER
When it came time to leave (and even into my time away), I continuously told myself one thing: “It’s not forever.” Reminding myself, and the people in my life, that we will see each other again soon enough provided peace of mind.
This mentality also helped me live in the moment. Knowing that my time away from home was short, I made sure that I didn’t let homesickness hold me back.
Spending your time missing the past and anticipating the future keeps you from living in the present. Don’t let yourself reflect on your experience with regret knowing that you missed out because your mind was stuck elsewhere.
Before I left home, I often was told, “Don’t compare your exchange.” This advice is applicable to more than just an exchange year, and so I say, “Don’t compare your life.”
Access to other people’s lives is so easy now through means like social media, creating an ever-present urge to compare. Try not to view what everyone else is doing as better than what you are doing. Chances are, that’s not actually what their life is like. Social media is not real life. You are not them. This is your experience, not anyone else’s. Every individual has a different life with different experiences. Life would be awfully boring otherwise.
FIND A ROUTINE
It may be similar to the one you had before, or completely different. Finding a routine does not necessarily mean to do the exact same thing every day, but rather find a few things that can be a constant during times of change. Maybe that is reading a few pages of a book every day or drinking your coffee every morning. Whatever it may be, find something that you can enjoy and prioritize. This will help create a sense of normalcy in periods where there is little.
The meaning of the phrase “YOLO” (You only live once) takes on a new meaning when you begin living by it. Whether it’s going on a trip somewhere new or going out with your friends for the night, you only get one life.
Whether you’re moving to college, a new city or across the world, it can be hard to adjust to a new environment, but you can do many things to make that transition a bit easier.