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I’ve turned into a stranger!

After an exchange year abroad, I don’t feel like the same person anymore. Should I tell my friends?

Congratulations on embracing the experience so fully, says our elder. Don’t worry; it will all work out.

Dear EWC

Hi, you should know that I’m a 15-year-old girl. I’m currently studying in the US since I’m doing my exchange year here. I’m from Germany and I’ve been living with a host family for eight months. I’ll go back to Germany in about three months. I’ve really enjoyed my experience so far but there is something that won’t get out of my mind. I’ve been keeping in touch with my friends from Germany and my best friend even visited me during Christmas break. I’ve been growing a lot since I came to the US and I have a different perspective on a lot of things. I’m way more open-minded and I got used to get stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m a person who thinks a lot about stuff and I feel things very deeply. I became much more mature in some ways and I’m still growing every day.

Sometimes when I talk to my German friends, I realize that something has changed. I still love all of them but I’m not the person I was before. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know me anymore. I mean I’m not even sure if I know myself. They also grew and changed but I feel like they are way less open-minded than me. Not all of them are like that but some. I’m looking forward to coming back to Germany but I’m also a little scared to meet strangers. Actually I’m scared they will meet a stranger-me. I know a lot of other exchange students and I know for sure that some of them feel the same. I hope you understand what my situation is like. I’ve already experienced letting friends go but that was usually because the other person moved to another town or transferred to another school. This time, it’s me who changed. So my question is basically: What should I do? Should I tell them how I feel or should I wait until I’ve come back to Germany? Or should I just ignore it and pretend like everything is normal? I really don’t know… Thanks for taking the time to read this and to answer.

JensPen replies

I was so interested to read your letter. You and I have had some very similar experiences.
When I was in high school, I too was an exchange student. I lived with a family in Brazil for a year. All of the emotions you are feeling I experienced as well. Immersing oneself in another culture is so mind-expanding. Your perspective on life changes and you mature a great deal. Yes, at first you are totally out of your comfort zone and then you become more at ease and are able to see life and people from two cultural points of view.

Congratulations to you for embracing this opportunity so fully. It says quite a lot about the type of young woman you are.
Regarding your ‘re-entry’ let me say this. You are 100 percent correct that you will not be returning as the same person you were and yes, you will still be discovering exactly who you have become. That is all as it should be. We are all the product of our environments and our experiences. It is possible that you will find that you have ‘outgrown’ some of your friends and perhaps kids you weren’t friendly with in the past will now become new friends. It is your choice as to whether or not you want to mention how you feel before you return or just let nature take her course. When you return home to give yourself some time to readjust and see how it goes. I know this is all weighing on your mind but trust me it will all shake out easier than you think.

You have been lucky enough to have a life-changing opportunity this year. I hope you will take all you have learned and put it to good use. Wherever you go in life this extraordinary experience will be part of you.
I wish you the best of luck.

Letter #: 438334
Category: Friendship

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