341 days ago, I found myself getting on a plane to a strange country to live with strange people. 311 days later, I found myself getting on a different plane, to a once-familiar country and to the wonderful people who used to be my only family. That was one month ago.
In 311 days, I managed to create an entirely new life for myself, with a new language, new friends, and new customs. While I never forgot my old life while in Poland - and in the first few months clung to it subconsciously - after a while it became easier, natural somehow, to let myself fall into my new life in my new country and it's beautiful culture.
While in Poland, I was seemingly riding multiple roller coasters at once - physical ones in which both my weight and style choices fluctuated and emotional ones, pertaining to things like homesickness, my outlook on the world, and how I personally identified myself. Now that I'm back in the states, back in Houghton, it feels like I'm on the same roller coasters again, just in a different amusement park.
In the beginning of my exchange, I yearned for the people and things in America that had once been so crucial to my identity - the people and things that not only impacted how I lived my life, but who I lived it as. As my exchange wore on, I found myself losing some, if not all, of the attachments that had previously defined me. Some of them were not lost entirely, simply remade to show new conditions. Others were replaced with new attachments to new people, new things and new aspects of my new life. And still others remained lost, because the person I had become and was becoming no longer needed them.
The entire time I was abroad, especially in the first half of the year, I actively missed (or at least I thought I did) so many parts of American life and culture. I missed having a car, I missed Taco Bell, my tall American bed with 'normal" sheets, the normalcy of student athletes, or even students involved in extracurriculars. Now that I'm back, I'm confused as to why I missed those things at all, perhaps especially now that I have new Polish things to miss, like bu?eczki, parwki, public transportation, my simple European bed, and their education system. I wonder if upon my eventual return to Poland I will find that I didn't REALLY miss these things, I simply wanted what I couldn't have.
I've always liked to think of myself as an adventurous person, outgoing, willing go with the flow even if it meant venturing into uncharted waters, but it wasn't until I got on that first plane 341 days ago that I truly understood what it means to be adventurous. It wasn't until I found myself sitting at the bus stop trying to ask an old woman for directions in broken Polish that I really became outgoing. And it really wasn't until I found myself willingly eating whole chicken hearts (which by the way taste like bitter rubber bands) that I was wading into truly uncharted waters.
The 311 days that I spent as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student are some of the proudest and most memorable of my entire life. It was during those days that I learned the important truth that our world views are not and never will be concrete or absolute. In fact, it is when they never change that the problems start.
Since I've been back, several people have come up to me to congratulate or thank me for my articles and for that, all I can say is thank you - thank all of you for being with me through every happy and aha moment as well as every moment of homesickness and culture shock. The fact that I got to share this wonderful experience with all of you truly was a blessing in itself. I'd also like to the thank the Houghton Rotary Club for this amazing opportunity - without them, none of this would have been possible. As you may have guessed, this is the last installment in the "From Pasties to Pierogi" series. Thank you again to those of you who enjoyed reading about my adventures. Now all I can hope is that my experiences will inspire you to have your own adventures, and that whether planned or unplanned, you embrace and let them change you, because if they don't, what will?
Editor's note:?Maria Sliva is a member of Houghton?Rotary Student Exchange.