I'm climbing a figurative mountain here. It's uphill, so it's hard. Exchange is hard.
When you first think 'yes, I would like to climb that moutain', you think, 'wow, I am going to do something amazing, it's going to be amazing, I know it will be hard, but it will be amazing and exciting and I want to do it.'
So I'm climbing this mountain. There are times when I can stop for a breather, and look out at the view and it's beautiful, and you thank yourself for making the effort to climb the mountain.
Then there are the other times, when it's just so hard you want to give up, but the slope is so steep and gravelly that you have to keep going or you'll slip down too far, and you wonder why you are putting yourself through it, but you just keep climbing because there's no way you can do anything else.
You reach the top of the mountain, and you've made it!!! You've accomplished something huge. And then you miss the views you could see from the rest stops you made coming up the mountain. The hard times have faded a bit in your memory.
For other exchangers, it was different. Some were fitter than others, so the climb was easier. Others climbed mountains that were harder to conquer. And because everyone's mountains are different, when you are climbing one of those steep gravelly slopes, and other exchangers are staring transfixed at their views, it's useless to compare. Using walky-talkies, you can share how tough a time you're having, and be encouraged by others who tell you it's not all the time steep and gravelly, but it's your individual pursuit. But when you all make it, you can proudly think, in the words of Sir Edmund Hilary, '...we knocked the bastard off'.
I'm nearly 1/5 of the way into my exchange now, but the reality is, I have been writing a lot about the good stuff, when there's not-so-good stuff to do with exchange as well, and to be realistic about exchange, it's not good times all the time. Everything does not stay new and exciting, there's a point when it settles into familiarity. Of course the familiarity includes the good times, but there are points when I am homesick, when I'm tired, when the language barrier becomes frustrating, and other times like that.
Homesickness is a normal part of every exchange. I was very homesick when I first got here, other exchangers were experiencing a 'honeymoon' phase, when everything was new and exciting. But everyone is different. I am going through one of my homesick phases now. There are funny little things that I miss, for example, 750ml water bottles and having a room of my own. There are also the more obvious things that I miss, like my family, friends, routine back home and the delicious meals my mum prepares nearly every night. It's harder to find a private space here, my room is shared, and bedrooms are generally the 'private' rooms of the house. But I'll get used to that. It's things like that that you think of when you're homesick.
The language barrier is slowing coming away. I am really glad I had taken Spanish for three years before I cam here, because it definitely helps to know how verbs are conjugated. I never thought I'd think this at the time, but I am thankful for the tests my Spanish teacher gave us, when we had to memorise irregular verbs and 80 words per week. I have been able to communicate more and more. At the start it was frustrating, because I knew I could say more in Spanish, it was just that if I said something, I would not be able to understand the response. I'm used to the accent and the pace of speaking now.
When I am feeling homesick, I do know that I am in one of the low points, and it will only get better. I really believe in myself now, I have faith that it will get better, and that's something I thought I had before exchange, but I really believe that I have now. This past week, I was finding mornings really tough, probably partly because I think I'm coming down with a cold, so I was going to bed earlier and still waking up tired and dreading the day ahead, I would cry a bit in the bathroom while washing my face, and in my first two classes I'd just be really tired and sad and want to sleep. But that's the low points, and at the end of the day, I don't feel like that anymore, school gets better and I feel better and happy, and have been through the low point, and when I feel better, when I have a next low point, I know that given some time, it will get better.
For example, yesterday I was just feeling really homesick. I was also worried because we had a test, and everyone seemed to be studying for it, so I went into the classroom to study, and was reading the notes and listening to my iPod, when a song came on that reminded me of home, and that set off the waterworks. A friend noticed I was crying, and came over and hugged me, then led me to the bathrooms, where more friends saw and they all hugged me and we had a big group hug, and even though I was sad, it was so nice to see how my new friends were supportive and caring. And like I knew at 6.40 in the morning, I started to feel better and it turned out to be a pretty good day.
But the reality of exchange is, like climbing a mountain, it's not going to be easy and fun and amazing all the time. It will settle into normality, it will be harder at times, but it will get better and there are always the good times to look forward to.
'I know we can make it if we take it slow, that's takin' easy, easy now, watch it go'