The following blog post was written by Fira, a YES student from Indonesia living with her host family in South Carolina. Fira has a lot to say about how much her Local Coordinator, host family and exchange community mean to her as she reflects on reaching the halfway point in her academic year abroad and looks ahead to very difficult goodbyes.
Lately I’ve been receiving emails about going home. Time flies so fast that it’s hard to believe we’re already half way through our exchange year. The thought of going home makes me wonder if am I ready yet. I know it might be too early to think about that, but sometimes to live in the moment, we have to make ourselves realize that this is all temporary. Life goes on, and it’s really important to seize the day and make it count. Excited? Of course I am. I’m excited to finally come back and see my family and my friends that I could only see on my phone screen for the past 4 months, excited to finally eat the food that I grew up with, excited to tell stories about my journey here, and most of all, I’m excited to make a difference. But on the other hand, I’m also terrified.
Florence, South Carolina. It’s not exactly what I expected. When I hear USA, I picture in my head places like New York, California, Chicago, or Texas. In fact, I’ve never heard of Florence, South Carolina, before. I did some research before I came here to get to know the place better. It’s totally different from where I live back in my home country. I lived in a city right next to the capital city of Indonesia.
Back at home I can go anywhere easily with public transportation, but here I have to depend on people to give me a ride. It’s quieter here all day and night. There’s not much people, and I could only find a traffic jam on Friday after school or busy hours—unlike my city that’s always busy.
People say that home is where the heart is. It takes time to make myself feel comfortable in this new situation to finally call this place home. After all, home is not a place. It’s people, memories and pictures, smiles and laughter, feelings and comfort that grows by the times that we spend with each other.
Ms. Dina is the best Local Coordinator I could possibly have. From the moment we arrive here, she coordinates fun activities for us to do during our exchange year. Almost every week we have something going on. Starting from volunteering, parties, sleepovers, visiting places, festivals—you name it.
Not only is Ms. Dina a great local coordinator but she’s like my second mom for me while I’m here. She always puts on a cheerful smile every time we meet and asks us about what’s going on at school. It seems like she’d never get bored of asking and listening to all of our stories. She understands all of our problems and helps us find a way to get out of it. She gives me motivation to believe in myself that I could face the challenges of an exchange student that keep coming.
Ms. Dina would sacrifice all her time and energy to coordinate stuff for us to have fun while we’re here. I love her so much! I can’t imagine how my exchange year would be without Ms. Dina. Thank you is never enough after all the things she has done for us.
My exchange group is just amazing. We are like one big happy family. There are 20 of us from 17 different counties with different backgrounds and personality, but we are able to complete and be there for each other. They make me feel like home is not so far away. I feel very happy after spending time with the group.
One of the activities that we’ve done over the holidays is the Christmas party. We had an ugly sweater contest which was new to me, where everyone was rocking the runway in their ugly sweaters. It’s very interesting to watch. Everyone was so creative, and some even made their own ugly sweaters! We also did a Chinese Christmas game; it was fun! As I say before, all of the activities with the group are always fun.
We also did volunteering at the Lynches River Park in one of their events of the year called Breakfast with Santa. We served breakfast, helped the kids with their crafts and some of us were dressed like elves too!
I love volunteering with the group, because we get to interact with people a lot with our name tag showing that we’re from different countries. It makes them feel interested in talking to us. It’s a good chance for us to tell them about our country and answer their curiosity. And by that we build understanding between cultures and break down stereotypes that we have towards certain groups or countries around the world. These are things that will stay forever in my memory and definitely things that I will miss when I come back to my home country.
I’m thankful to have a host family that cares so much about me. Not only that they give me experience and memories during my exchange year, but they also taught me a lot of lessons about life. Isn’t it amazing how someone who was once a stranger from across the world can mean so much to you and love you the way a family would? They’re the ones who are willing to forgive, the ones that care about me and love me with all their hearts. I love them so much. I can tell by now that this is going to be one of my hardest goodbyes.
Talking about going home, leaving the people that have always been there through my journey are the reason why I’m terrified of going home. Starting from Ms. Dina to my exchange group, the host families and my own host family, I can’t imagine how hard it’s going be to say goodbye to them. Well, let me wrap it up with one question: “You build a life for 17 years and you leave it for one year, you build a life for one year and you leave it forever. Which one is the hardest?”
Since 2016 is over, it means I have gone through the hardest moments of my exchange year which was to adapt to the new environment that now I call my new home. To all the exchange students, all we have is 6 months left. Let’s seize the day and make every second count!
Thank you, Fira. It’s great to hear about your wonderful experiences as an exchange student in the U.S.
If you have room in your heart and space in your home to host a great student like Fira, learn more about AYA and high school exchange programs available to you.