Over the past year, I have changed a lot. I wouldn’t say completely changed because I still stayed the same person. I just improved. First of all, like any other teenager, I grew quite a bit. When I first got here, I was around 5’ 7” and currently my height is almost 5’ 9.” To add to my appearance, my hair grew a lot and I am working on my nails right now. What I also noticed over the past month is that my eyes have changed. That might sound weird, but it seems to me that a sparkle developed in my eyes, the blue is brighter now. As my host grandmother, Bubby, said to me around January, “Emma, your style has matured over the past few months.” My taste in clothes, and jewelry has changed. The style in the U.S., especially in Southern California, is way different than what I am used too.
I think the biggest change I have experienced is socially. My entire social life changed. As mentioned before, I lived in Austria before I came to California to study abroad. My family includes my mother, my father, my sister, and my brother. Both my siblings are younger, which means I did not know what to expect this past year since I never experienced something like this before. Not only did this program give me great opportunities to broaden my horizon, but also changed the circle of people around me, for example my host family!
This year I was lucky to study abroad in Oak Park with an incredible host family. They were welcoming and treated me like family. Unlike my family back home, my roles switched. I was the baby of the family! Not only did my home situation change, but I also made new friends. I can’t even mention all the people I met this year and whom I became friends with. There are also several people I am honored to call my friends from basketball, theater, or other international students.
Also, my motivation has changed. I never wanted to stay at home, instead I went out and experienced new things. I was always a social type of person but this year has taught me to enjoy and live every moment. Since I got here, I knew my time was limited, my chance of meeting the people was shorter. Throughout these months, I often had balanced between friend groups. As an exchange student you make new acquaintances almost daily and you have a limited chance to become close with everyone. If you do, they will always have a special place in your heart. My friend circle grew. When I go back to Austria, I can say there are many people on the other side of the world that care about me and can call family.
Starting my journey my Local Coordinator said, “even though these ten months will seem so short and are just a small part of your life, it will have an impact on your future.” She was totally right! This experience has inspired me to travel and live all around the world. I want to explore different places, meet new people, and learn about their cultures. I will participate in, hopefully, more studying abroad programs. In the far future, I want to give my children the same great opportunity as I had. This year has shown me a how precious every moment is and that it is our responsibility to live it to the fullest.