How it all began…
If somebody would have told me two years ago that I would currently be taking a year off college to spend year of my life abroad in a foreign country, I would have told them they were crazy.
My first encounter with the Rotary Youth Exchange program, or any exchange program for that matter, was during RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards; phenomenal conference for rising seniors in high school, highest regards). They had an “International Night” where previous exchange students shared their experiences abroad with us.
I had no doubt in my mind from that moment on, I was going to be an exchange student.
I feel like it takes a type of person to be completely committed to something after hearing an hour lecture. At that time, I had never traveled further than the east coast of the United States. But I had always wanted to study abroad in college and I had hopes of volunteering with the Peace Corps after getting my bachelors degree.
My dad’s initial response when I had expressed my interest in being an exchange student was a definite no. But, my dear friends, you can never give up that easy.
One of the exchange coordinators had invited me to a “Welcome Home Dinner” where returning exchange students would share about their year abroad. I knew everything was finalized once my dad agreed to go to the dinner with me. Not only did he get more information about the validity of the program, but he also saw the potential it has as a truly life changing and once in a lifetime opportunity. I would like to say thank you to my dad for allowing me to embark on this journey. One thing I love about my parents together, is that they have always allowed me to make whatever decision that I thought was best for me.
And so I began my application (I will go more in depth about this process in another blog post). I had just finished my shift at McDonald’s when I found out that I was selected to be an exchange student. I was extatic! Around this time, I was ready for senior year to end and I was eager to start this new chapter of my life.
I was completely open with going to any country and it wasn’t until around February that I got the news I was selected as an ambassador to Brazil.
The springtime started to roll around, and before I knew it, summer was coming close to and end. It was an odd feeling.
While I never once doubted or questioned my desire to be an exchange student, I was sad to leave all of the things I couldn’t take with me. I couldn’t drive my car with the windows rolled down and Jesse McCartney playing on the radio. I couldn’t walk to the ice cream stand near my house or watch the sunset on the beach with my best friend. I wouldn’t see my sister or dad for a long time and I would surely miss my boyfriend. Everything in my life was going the way I wanted it to, and yet I was going to leave it for another.
And at the same time, it almost felt like my life here would never end. I couldn’t rationalize that everything I was and everything I knew for the past eighteen years of my life was going to change. My entire life was going to be picked up and relocated in another place.
I received my flight confirmation sometime in August and I started to cry. I was both happy and sad at the same time. This was actually happening.
It was a blissful feeling, knowing that there are people in my life and places I have been that I will miss. You really start to appreciate and value everything, big or small. This is one of the lessons I will keep with me for my entire life. Imagine how much stronger your relationships with other people would be if you never took the time you spent together for granted, as if every moment was closer to the last. You will never again be in the same place with the same people at the same time. Let that sink in. Sometimes life takes different directions and even the closest of friends lose touch. And regardless of how life takes its path, in reality, all of our time on this Earth is limited.
I pulled an all nighter leading up to my flight. I only had a few things packed and I didn’t finish until we had to leave for the airport. A special thanks to my dad, my sister, and my boyfriend for taking the train with me to the John F. Kennedy airport.
I started crying once I got to security and had to officially say goodbye. They couldn’t go with me any further. I wouldn’t see them for a year.
As much as I was sad to say goodbye, I was ready for this next year of my life.
I arrived in Brazil on the 5th of September 2017. My family greeted me with a banner that read:
“Seja Bem Vinda, Tabatha!”
And so my journey began. And believe me, it has been one worthwhile.